The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sent Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s confessed assassin Mumtaz Hussain Qadri on a five-day physical remand on Thursday but has decided to conduct the proceedings in Rawalpindi instead of Islamabad, citing jurisdictional compulsions.
Citing security concerns, the capital territory police and administration had earlier requested Malik Akram Awan, the judge of the ATC Rawalpindi to hold the hearings in Islamabad.
Apparently, the court had given its nod since the suspected assassin was initially shifted to the designated venue in an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) amid tight security and all arrangements for the hearing were in place.
But much to the police’s disappointment, after keeping them waiting for two and a half hours, the judge asked the policemen to produce the suspect before him in the ATC room Rawalpindi since certain legal bindings “did not allow the judge to hold the ATC anywhere else but its designated courtroom.”
In a related development in Rawalpindi, hundreds of Sunni Tehreek (ST) activists gathered outside the Rawalpindi court premises carrying flags and banners to ‘receive’ Qadri. Together with some members of the lawyer community, they blocked the way of the ATC judge by lying on the road, on getting news of the request to the judge by the Islamabad administration.
“He will leave the court over our bodies” vowed the religious activists, aided by some members of the legal fraternity. A number of lawyers also submitted their consent in the court to plead the case for the accused.
The Punjab governor’s killer’s arrival in the court was almost identical to the reception he had received at the Islamabad District Courts on Wednesday but the number of religious party workers here was much larger.
During the proceedings, the police pleaded before the court that the investigators needed more time to ascertain if Qadri had killed the governor on the persuasion of any group or it was his individual act.
His counsel’s argument that the suspect had already confessed and the murder weapon was recovered could not convince the court on not giving Qadri into police remand. Qadri’s counsel Anjum, however, was allowed 15 minutes to meet his client in isolation during the hearing.
‘I had seen signs of torture on Qadri’s body and lodged a complaint with the police’ claimed Anjum, while talking to the media outside the courtroom, after meeting with his client.
Anjum said he had also told the court that the Governor’s son had not pinpointed any one in his FIR. Also, the killer had maintained that he was not associated to any political or religious group, the court was told.
The assassin’s APC left the court premises under the shadows of green flags and slogans in his support.
Meanwhile, sources told The Express Tribune that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had submitted its preliminary report to the Interior Ministry. Federal Interior Minister, Rehman Malik in turn had submitted the JIT initial report on Thursday to Bilawal House.
The investigators had prepared a brief on the incident and stated that the killer was being further investigated to ascertain his suspected links with any political or religious group.
Sources said that during his meeting with the president, the interior minister briefed him about the telephone SIM being used by Qadri. The JIT had started listing down the people in the contact list.
‘A few people have been arrested on suspicion and very soon the government will reach a breakthrough’ sources quoted Interior Minister Rehman Malik as saying.
They said that the prime focus of the investigators was to ascertain as to who was aware about the planning of the high profile killing.
Malik told the media outside Bilawal House the it would be premature to disclose the findings of the report. “We are probing whether it is individual act or other people are involved,” he said.
So far, Qadri is firm on his stance of killing the governor for his views on blasphemy and that it was his (Qadri’s) individual act. He has so far not given any clue to the investigators indicating his links to any political or religious groups.
Sources close to the investigations confirmed that Taseer was shot at from the front and not from the back as suggested earlier by the police. “More entry wounds of bullets were found on his chest and abdomen area and less on the rear of his body” said the source citing the medico-legal report.
The report also suggested that 26-27 bullets hit the governor, out of which 12 exited his body confirming that the assassin had emptied one clip of his sub machine gun (SMG). Also he was not hit from close range. “Taseer was hit from a distance of 5-10 feet” said the official. Close range is considered a distance of three feet.
Taseer died on the spot as all his major organs except the heart were ruptured, the medico-legal report suggested. The assassin had surrendered himself after emptying the clip into the Punjab governor’s body. He had expertly managed to lodge almost all the bullets in the SMG clip into the governor’s body within a span of ¾ seconds.
The investigators were trying to ascertain as to how Qadri managed to find a place in the security detail of the governor despite being declared unfit for the job.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2011.
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