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Fugitive Pakistani Policeman Surrenders

FILE: Anwar talks with collegues after in Karachi on January 16
FILE: Anwar talks with collegues after in Karachi on January 16

(Reuters) - A senior Pakistani policeman accused of a role in police killings has surrendered to the Supreme Court in a case that has stirred anger about extrajudicial killings.

After two months on the run, Rao Anwar, senior superintendent of police in the port city of Karachi, appeared before the apex court in Islamabad on March 21.

Anwar was suspended on January 20 after four men were killed in a shootout with police in Karachi.

Police initially said the men were suspected Islamist militants but later suggested the incident may have been an extra-judicial killing.

The shootout, in which police gunned down aspiring model Naqibullah Mehsud, also brought to the fore the issue of racial profiling of Pakistan's Pashtuns, who say they are targeted and harassed because many militants hail from their communities close to the border with Afghanistan.

"Take Rao Anwar into custody," Chief Justice Saqib Nisar ordered police after Anwar appeared in court, the English-language Dawn newspaper reported.

Reuters could not immediately reach Anwar's lawyer or other representatives for comment.

Television channels earlier had broadcast images of Anwar, wearing a surgical mask and flanked by policemen from the Anti-Terrorist Squad, walking into the Supreme Court without handcuffs.

Anwar's arrest came after Facebook photographs of militant suspect Mehsud, posing with long-flowing hair in trendy clothes for amateur fashion photo shoots, cast doubt on police claims that he was a hard-core Islamist.

On March 21, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a team led by police officers, to investigate the killing of Mehsud. It has also unfrozen Anwar's bank accounts to ensure his children do not struggle financially, English-language daily Dawn reported.

Since Mehsud's killing, the issue of "police encounters" -- a euphemism for extrajudicial killings -- has gained media coverage amid growing anger from the Pashtun community, which says its young men are unfairly and disproportionately targeted.

Police data from 2011 reviewed by Reuters shows that at least 450 people have been killed in 200 clashes with police that involved weapons during the seven years Anwar has been in charge of Karachi’s Malir district.

The data does not detail the circumstances of the shootings, but the district has a large Pashtun population.

In January, Anwar told Reuters he had done nothing wrong, saying the investigation into his officers’ actions could allow the Pakistani Taliban militants to regain a foothold in ethnic Pashtun parts of Karachi.

"I had no knowledge of Naqibullah Mehsud," Anwar said at the time. "My staff told me that he is a militant with a criminal history."

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Clarence Fernandez)