LAHORE: At least seven police officials who were on duty in a patrol boat in the riverine area of Rajanpur were reportedly abducted by bandits on Sunday.
The policemen were identified as ASI Muzammil, Jamshaid, Safdar Husain, Zeeshan Haider, Sabir Husain, Muhammad Shakir, and Muhammad Luqman.
The victims were taken hostage when they were sailing on a boat nearby an island in the Indus River near Moro in the limits of Bangla Icha Police Station. The bandits took the policemen and their boat to their hideout.
After learning of the incident, senior police officers including DG Khan RPO Rehmatullah Khan Niazi and the Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan DPO led a heavy police contingent including Elite Force officials to the hideout.
They were still negotiating with the suspects when this report was filed.
Sources had previously said that they were prepared to take a more aggressive approach if negotiations failed.
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Inspector General of Police Arif Nawaz Khan said the safe recovery of the victims was their top priority and they would not risk injuring them in a rescue operation unless the suspects refused to release them. Rajanpur DPO Attique Taabir, however, told the media that no one was negotiating with the suspects.
The area remained cordoned off when this report was filed.
Two weeks ago, a boat operator and a police official were killed while six others including an SHO were injured when a boat carrying a police team was attacked by suspected bandits in DG Khan.
A police officer said the victims were on a routine patrol in the same area when they were taken into custody. The suspects were remnants of the Chotu Gang who had managed to flee during the military operation against them last year. They regrouped and eventually returned to their hideout. He further said that the current size of the gang could not be confirmed, but the police estimate it is currently less than 30 members, mostly from the Bangla Icha and Shah Wali areas.
Last year, seven policemen including an SHO were shot dead and 24 were held hostage by the Chotu Gang when police had launched an operation to vacate the area. The gang held the policemen hostage for 24 days. Eventually, they were released when the gang’s leader surrendered after Rangers and Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Ahan.
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Chottu and numerous underlings were taken into custody and are presently under trial.
Before 2016, at least five police operations had been launched to clear the area, but with limited success.
After the 2016 military operation, Punjab Police established its Riverine Force to patrol the Indus River in areas such as Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Layyah, Bhakkar, Mianwali and Attock. The purpose of the force was to curb crime in the Indus River and on islets in the river.
In July 2017, police had launched a fresh operation to clear the area. Then-IGP Usman Khattak escorted a cabinet committee including the provincial minister for anti-terrorism and reviewed the strategy for the latest operation in the Kacha area.