Security personnel carry the injured gunman after a standoff in Islamabad.
ISLAMABAD: Police defended yesterday their response to a gunman who shut down the heart of the heavily guarded capital for five hours in a standoff that ended with him being shot and wounded.
Waving two semi-automatic guns and occasionally firing into the air, Mohammad Sikandar was accompanied by his wife and children throughout the tense drama close to Islamabad’s political quarter late on Thursday.
Broadcast live on news channels, hours of stalemate came to a chaotic end when Zamarud Khan, a senior member of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party sent to negotiate, made a sudden lunge at the gunman.
Khan slipped and missed him, but police opened fire, seriously wounding Sikandar in the chest and leg before arresting him, dragging him off as blood poured from his wounds. Doctors said he was improving yesterday.
The drama drew a huge crowd of onlookers and media, and Islamabad police chief Muhammad Rizwan said they were to blame for the slow response, denying his men had dithered in the face of the challenge.
“The commando operation was delayed because we needed proper space between the public and the gunman,” he told Geo TV.
“We asked media and the public who had gathered there to stay at least 300 metres away for their safety, but they did not move away.” Rizwan said there was a gap of only 50 metres between the crowd and Sikandar, making it impossible to tackle him safely.
He said it appeared Sikandar was not part of any extremist outfit. “Preliminary investigations suggest that he is not associated with any group and it was his individual act.”
The standoff began around 5.30pm when police flagged down the gunman’s car for a traffic offence on the central Jinnah Avenue neighbourhood, just over a kilometre from the presidency and parliament.
Sikandar started firing into the air, forcing markets and shops to close, before making rambling demands, including the resignation of the government, the imposition of Shariah law and the release of a son from prison in Dubai. Police said he appeared to have mental health problems but Rizwan said this was yet to be confirmed.
The man underwent three hours of surgery during the night, Dr Wasim Khawaja, spokesman for Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital, said. “Hopefully he will be normal in 24 hours. We have put him on a ventilator and he is maintaining his blood pressure.”
Sikandar’s wife was also shot in the leg as the scene reached its conclusion but doctors said she was out of danger.
As the standoff played out during the evening, Sikandar smoked cigarettes and spoke to TV stations on his mobile phone while his children played around his car.
Khan, hailed as a hero by some media outlets, said he felt he had to intervene. “I was sitting at home watching this whole drama on TV. I came out with a commitment that I will catch this guy, even if it takes my life.” AFP