An unidentified armed assailant Monday targeted Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid, who escaped unhurt outside Constitution Club near Parliament, where security has been stepped up for Independence Day.
Police said Khalid escaped after a scuffle with the assailant, who fled after his weapon “jammed”. Police have also
recovered CCTV footage of the attacker from a camera installed at the RBI building across the road and said he had dropped the gun as he escaped.
Khalid was at Constitution Club to attend an event, ‘Khauf se Azadi: Towards Freedom Without Fear’, organised by an NGO, United Against Hate. He was attacked just before the programme was to start at around 2.30 pm when he stepped out of the Constitution Club for tea with three friends.
“I was returning after tea with my friends and just outside the gate, a hefty man pounced on me. He grabbed my neck from behind with his arms, punched me and threw me to the ground. I noticed immediately that he had a gun in his hand and I got scared. I held his hand with the gun and tried to move it aside,” said Khalid, whose shirt was covered in mud, after the incident.
#BREAKING: @IPSMadhurVerma has confirmed they have found #CCTV #footage of the man accused of attacking #UmarKhalid outside the #ConstitutionClub.
Image of the #assailant. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/c4gPAazF0u
— Mahender Singh (@mahendermanral) August 13, 2018
“My friends tried to overpower him. He then got scared and started running away. After he had travelled a distance, he fired with the gun. I heard the sound. After that, I just ran and came inside. He didn’t say anything to me, he was just hitting. This has happened outside the Constitution Club, just two days before Independence Day,” he said.
Joint Commissioner of Police (New Delhi range) Ajay Chaudhary said: “A preliminary investigation has revealed that it was a loaded gun, but a bullet is stuck. The crime scene is being searched for the bullet cap as Khalid in his statement has said shots were fired.”
Incidentally, Khalid had sought police protection two months ago saying there was a “danger to his life”. Police sources said they had tried to approach him about the complaint on several occasions and that he was unavailable. Khalid was to meet police about security on Tuesday.
Police sources said that the gun found outside Constitution Club appeared to be a 7.65 mm country-made pistol and that it had been sent to the FSL to determine if it had been fired. “The pistol recovered from the spot is an old one and is rusted and jammed. We have also recovered all the six live cartridges and sent it to Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL),” said DCP (New Delhi) Madhur Verma.
On the basis of Khalid’s complaint, a case has been registered under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC and sections of the Arms Act at the Parliament Street police station.
Khalid, along with former JNU students union president Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya, was arrested on sedition charges in 2016 in connection with the February 9 event on the JNU campus. The event, organised to protest the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, was at the centre of a storm then after allegations that students had raised anti-India slogans. No chargesheet has been filed in the sedition case as of now and all three are on bail.
Khalid’s friend Banojyotsna Lahiri was with him when he was attacked. “This man — who just pounced on Umar — had a gun in his hand and he was pointing the gun at Umar. However, when some friend of ours ran behind him, he started running away, then fired in the air before dropping his gun and fleeing,” she said. Lahiri was taken to the Crime Branch to help with a sketch of the alleged assailant who she described as someone big, with a slight beard and wearing a checked shirt.
According to shopkeepers outside the Constitution Club, they also heard a loud sound. Rajesh Kumar, who has owned a shop for 35 years at the spot, said, “We didn’t see anything but we heard a loud bang sound. Initially, we thought a tyre had burst,” he said.
The seminar at Constitution Club Monday was organised against incidents of lynching and hate crimes across the country. According to the organiser Nadeem Khan, the motive behind the conference was to hear the voices of those who have suffered in such cases and also release an annual report.
Among those present at the seminar were advocate Prashant Bhushan, Fatima Nafees, mother of missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmad, Maryam, the wife of Jharkhand lynching victim Alimuddin and Dr Kafeel Khan from Gorakhpur.
Khalid said: “It is very difficult for me to say who could be behind the attack, but I want to say one thing — a misinformation campaign has been spread against me in the last two years. Baseless things have been said about me to such an extent in the media, that people have started believing that people like me should be killed. It is ironic that this incident happened to me when I was here for a programme against lynching.”