A 23-year-old Muslim youth who was shot dead by a constable of Karnataka Police’s Anti-Naxal Force at a forest check-post on the Sringeri-Karkala route on April 19 was hit thrice from the back from a distance of over five feet, a preliminary probe into the controversial shooting incident has revealed.
The bullet entry wounds at the back of the body and the estimated distance from which the AK-47 rifle was fired seem to establish that Mohammed Kabeer was shot down while trying to flee, and not in the chest at point blank range as suggested initially by some reports from the spot of the shooting at the Thanikodu check-post in Chikamagalur district.
Kabeer and four associates were travelling in a pick-up truck transporting cattle when they were stopped at a forest check-post for a routine check at around 3.30 am on April 19 by a police team also comprising members of the Anti-Naxal Force (ANF) which operates in the Western Ghats region.
Kabeer was shot by ANF constable Naveen G Naik after he allegedly tried to run away. Two of his associates who managed to run away have provided contradictory statements and alleged the ANF personnel fired without provocation. The ANF has claimed its personnel mistook Kabeer for a Naxalite because he tried to flee when confronted.
Constable Naik, a 2012 President’s gallantry medal winner for a Naxal encounter, fired around nine rounds from his AK-47, including the three that hit Kabeer. He was arrested on April 25 after Umar Farooq, who was in the truck with Kabeer, filed a complaint.
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The investigation of the controversial case has been handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department of the state police amid demands, even from within the ruling Congress, for a CBI probe.
The killing has taken a political and communal turn with the opposition BJP questioning the arrest of Naik and Kabeer’s kin being paid a compensation of Rs 10 lakh without investigations being completed.
Sources said that initial investigations had revealed the ANF constable first fired in the air when he saw the youths abruptly fleeing the pick-up truck and later in their direction, resulting in Kabeer being hit.
While Kabeer had a large wound on the front of his body as documented in the post-mortem, he had two on his back and a third on the back of his arm. Sources said the large wound on the front was caused by the exit of two bullets.
It is suspected that Kabeer, who had four cases of illegal cattle smuggling against him in the Mangalore region, took to his heels along with two associates after seeing the armed ANF personnel and feared he would be arrested for cattle smuggling.
The issue of cattle smuggling has been a source of tension in the region with Right-wing Hindu groups setting up vigilante units to target transporters illegally moving cattle to slaughter houses.
“There does not seem to have been any provocation for the persons in the pick-up truck to run away when the ANF personnel walked around to check the contents of the truck. The firing seems to have been a reflex action to the running away,’’ sources familiar with the case said.
Rafeeq, one of the men who was in the truck when the firing took place, has said the shooting began after he and his associates fled the spot.
“It has just been four or five days since investigations began. The post-mortem and other technical reports when finalised will reveal the facts and circumstances of the incident,” a source involved with the investigations said.