Lucknow: Less than a second before he went down in a hail of bullets on the night of April 15, mafia don and politician Atiq Ahmad had been answering a question posed to him by journalists.
According to journalist Vikash Srivastava from ANI (Asian News International), reporters had asked Ahmad why he had not attended the burial of his son Asad on April 13. Asad had been wanted in the Umesh Pal murder case and was killed in a police “encounter” in Jhansi on April 13.
Just as Ahmad answered in Hindi, “Nahi le gaye, toh nahi gaye (They did not take us, so we did not go),” he was shot and killed at point blank range along with his brother, Khalid Aziz alias Ashraf. Since the journalists’ cameras were still rolling, the country watched these gruesome murders live as they took place.
Horrified and stunned by the events playing on their TV screens, few viewers would have thought of the journalists behind the cameras. But these journalists were eyewitnesses to the case.
‘Prepared to kill’
Ahmad and Ashraf had been expected at the Moti Lal Nehru Medical College, Prayagraj, that night for a medical examination and the journalists had hoped to get soundbytes from Ahmad about his son.
“Atiq and Ashraf were in handcuffs,” recalled Vikash. “The police vehicles had stopped very near the gate of the medical centre and as the two men stepped out of a vehicle, we approached them for their bytes.”
While Ahmad completed his sentence before he was killed, Ashraf, who had been trying to speak, was shot before he could say much, said Vikash.
“While Ashraf was talking, the three assailants started firing at Atiq and Ashraf,” Vikash added. “One of the assailants shot at Atiq’s temple at point-blank range.”
Ahmad and Ashraf fell to the ground and chaos broke out as the journalists tried to get to safety. “Amid this, my cameraman, Shailesh Pandey, went missing,” Vikash said. “I found the camera and mic lying on the ground and tried to capture what was going on, but I did not know how to operate the camera professionally. Later, I shot the scene with my mobile phone.”
Vikash told The Wire that it seemed the three assailants had come prepared to kill.
“They impersonated journalists so they could join the media personnel crowded outside the medical college. After killing Atiq and Ashraf, they shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” said Vikash.
Views from the ground
Video journalist Pankaj Srivastava from the Press Trust of India had been in the midst of adjusting his camera to get both Ahmad and Ashraf in the frame when the shots rang out.
According to Pankaj, the three assailants fired at least 15 to 20 rounds at Ahmad and his brother. “Atiq and Ashraf fell to the ground and died on the spot,” he added.
Pankaj had been in the line of fire when the assailants began shooting, but was saved from a bullet when another journalist pushed him out of the way.
“The bullet flew over my head,” he said. “In my entire professional career, I have never before seen murders take place in the presence of the police and the media.”
A journalist who had witnessed the murders of Ahmad and Ashraf but preferred to speak anonymously described the scene before the guns went off.
“As soon as they [Ahmad and Ashraf] stepped out of the police vehicle, the media started questioning them,” the journalist said. “Suddenly the area echoed with noises that sounded like fireworks and smoke spread everywhere.”
He added: “Atiq and his brother were standing face-to-face with the journalists. First, one of the assailants fired at Atiq’s temple. Later, the three assailants encircled the brothers from the right, left and back, and fired persistently for the next few seconds.”
When the firing started, the journalists ran for cover, many of them still recording what was happening, said the journalist. Some video journalists received minor injuries. However, he added, it is merely an assumption that the assailants had come disguised as media personnel.
According to another journalist who also preferred to be anonymous, the police fled from the spot when the firing began, leaving Ahmad, Ashraf and the journalists unprotected.
“They came back only when the assailants shouted that they wanted to surrender,” said this journalist.