Afsar Shah, Pakistan Teen, Reported Shooting Caught On Tape Sparks Investigation

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PAKISTAN MOURNERS
AP

KARACHI, Pakistan — Video of Pakistani security forces fatally shooting an unarmed teenager and then looking on as he cries for help in a pool of blood triggered fresh anger Thursday against a military establishment still reeling from criticism following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The footage, aired repeatedly on television, came less than a month after authorities gunned down five unarmed Chechens, including a heavily pregnant woman, at a checkpoint in Baluchistan province – an incident also caught on video. Witness testimony to a tribunal investigating the killings has severely undercut police claims that the Chechens were suicide bombers.

Pakistani security forces are often accused of using excessive force and killing unarmed civilians, typically those suspected of being criminals or militants. The criminal justice system in Pakistan is inefficient and conviction rates are very low, meaning officers sometimes kill suspects rather than attempt to prosecute them, human rights activists say.

"What we are seeing is visual records of what we have long documented, which is the culture of impunity in the Pakistani law enforcement agencies," said Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. "What is becoming clear is that the free for all, the culture of wanton abuse and killing, is becoming untenable in the age of new media and cell phone cameras."

Six members of the paramilitary Rangers, which is headed by an army general but controlled by the interior ministry, were arrested in connection with the killing of 18-year-old Afsar Shah on Wednesday in Karachi, according to the head of the force, Maj. Gen. Aijaz Chaudhry.

A Rangers spokesman initially said security forces detained Shah because he was attempting to rob people in a park Wednesday. He said a gun was recovered from Shah and that he was shot because he was reaching for a Ranger's rifle.

But Chaudhry, speaking later at a press conference, did not mention any such threat. He called the incident "deplorable."

"The Rangers have no authority to kill any unarmed individual and they can fire only in self-defense," he said. "On completion of the inquiry, all those found responsible will be given strict punishment."

The video of the incident aired by local Awaz TV and obtained by The Associated Press showed a man in civilian clothes wrestling a gun out of Shah's hand and kicking him toward a group of Rangers. Shah said it was just a toy gun as he pleaded with a Ranger who pointed his rifle at his neck.

"I am helpless," he said to the officers.

The men surrounded Shah and pointed their guns at him. He moved toward one of the Rangers with his arms outstretched, saying "No, no, don't kill me brother." He was pushed back and shot twice in the hand and leg.

Shah fell to the ground screaming and begged the Rangers to take him to a hospital, a longer video posted on YouTube showed. They stood by as he writhed in an expanding pool of his own blood.

Shah was eventually taken to a local hospital and died shortly thereafter from blood loss, said Seemi Jamali, director at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College.

Hundreds of people showed up at Shah's funeral Thursday and denounced the Rangers.

Some shouted "Rangers, murderers!" and others carried signs that said "Down with the Karachi Rangers."

Shah's brother, Salik, a local crime reporter, denied Afsar Shah was a robber and accused the Rangers of shooting an innocent person. "It seems to be a case of routine highhandedness of the Rangers," he said. "They misuse their powers by shooting on sight."

The military has faced unprecedented local and international criticism since the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden, with many here railing against it for not knowing where the al-Qaida leader was and for being unable to detect the American choppers crossing into the country.

In a statement Thursday, senior military commanders said that some people, motivated by "biases," were "trying to deliberately run down the armed forces and army in particular."

"This is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan whose support the army has always considered vital for its operations against terrorists," said the unusually long statement.

Last year, cell phone video allegedly showed soldiers executing suspected Islamist militants in the Swat Valley, where an army offensive against insurgents took place. Under American pressure, the army – which has received billions of dollars in American aid and equipment over the last 10 years – promised to investigate. No public report has yet been issued.

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Abdul Sattar reported from Quetta, Pakistan.

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