Anti-terror court in Karachi "acquitted all the accused" including Rao Anwar, a senior police officer, who led a purported raid on a suspected Pakistani Taliban hideout.

Naqeebullah's killing drew nationwide condemnation from human rights activists and thousands from his Mehsud tribe rallied in Islamabad and elsewhere in Pakistan in 2018.
Naqeebullah's killing drew nationwide condemnation from human rights activists and thousands from his Mehsud tribe rallied in Islamabad and elsewhere in Pakistan in 2018. (AP Archive)

A Pakistani court has acquitted a retired senior police officer and 17 others, mostly policemen still serving on the force, in the 2018 killing of a 27-year-old aspiring model.

Salahuddin Panwar, the family lawyer of the victim, Naqeebullah Mehsud, told AFP news agency on Monday that an anti-terror court convened in Karachi's central prison "acquitted all the accused" including Rao Anwar, a senior police official at the time of the incident. 

In January 2018, Rao - a senior superintendent with a string of allegations against him - led a raid on a suspected Pakistani Taliban hideout in the port city of Karachi.

Four men were killed, including the 27-year-old Naqeebullah, whose family rejected claims of links to armed militants and said he was working in retail while pursuing his dream of modelling.

Soon after his death, Naqeebullah's modelling portfolio went viral on social media sparking protests in several cities led by thousands of members of his Pashtun ethnic group.

Jabran Nasir, another attorney for Naqeebullah's family, meanwhile told the Associated Press news agency that the court in Karachi acquitted Anwar and the others due to lack of evidence, after the prosecution failed to prove the charges raised against them. 

Nasir told AP that he would need to consult the family and may file an appeal, while his fellow lawyer Panwar told AFP news that he will challenge the verdict before a higher court.

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'Fake shootout' 

Naqeebullah's family has claimed that he was arrested weeks prior to his killing and that alleged the raid was staged as a “fake shootout.”

Anwar, credited with arresting scores of armed militants while he was police chief, was suspended following the raid and barred from leaving Pakistan.

Later on, during the trial, he retired from service.

After Monday's ruling, Anwar said “justice has been done" and announced he would demand he be reinstated because of a wrongful suspension.

Speaking to domestic media after his release, he added, "a false case has today reached its logical end".

In total 18 people, all law enforcement officials, were on trial.

The southern city of Karachi, home to more than 15 million, was once a hive of activity by armed groups linked to the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. But a police crackdown starting in 2013 led to a dramatic downturn in violence.

READ MORE: 'Staged' shootout in Pakistan raises questions about police impunity