Shangri-La shooting: Police had to act 'because of threat': State Counsel

SINGAPORE - Instead of leaving it to chance, the police had to stop the car when it crashed through the final line of concrete security barriers outside Shangri-La Hotel last May, said State Counsel and Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck on Wednesday (March 16) as the coroner's inquiry into the death of 34-year-old driver Mohamad Taufik Zahar came to a close.

He was shot dead last May 31 by Gurkha officers at a security checkpoint set up near the hotel which was hosting the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major security summit attended by defence ministers and military chiefs from 27 countries.

Summing up the State's presentation of evidence, Mr Kwek said: "When the car crashed through the concrete barrier, police did not know and did not have time or opportunity to find out why... what it carried, and where it was going. The threat of danger in those circumstances was real. The police had to act, and they did."

 

Wednesday's hearing also saw the car's rear passenger, Muhammad Syahid Mohamed Yasin, testify for the first time on how he and his friends came under fire.

The 27-year-old, Taufik and another friend were headed to Orchard Towers after failing to pick up prostitutes in Geylang. The trio wound up at a high-security checkpoint outside the hotel because of a wrong turn.

There were drugs inside the car. When a police officer said the car was to be searched, Syahid said he shouted: "Why are you checking me?"

Despite police shouts and knocks on the car to stop, he urged Taufik to drive off.

"I was scared of being arrested. I just wanted to get out of that place... When I shouted the words 'Jalan! Jalan!', it was in an aggressive tone and it meant to 'Go!'"

After the car crashed through the barriers, it continued to pick up speed. They were around 35m away from the hotel.

"Suddenly, I heard three loud bangs. I was scared. I saw the front windscreen crack. At the same time, I saw (Taufik's) head jerking backwards to the left side.

"I saw blood from the back of his head. It looked like someone attacked him on the back of his head with a parang," said Syahid, who was sentenced to seven years' jail and three strokes for abetment to commit a rash act and for drug offences last year.

The three-day inquiry - the first two days were on Jan 26 and 27 - had nine witnesses, including police officers and forensic scientists. A Gurkha officer, one of two who together fired five shots, said on Jan 27: "In my training, if a vehicle crashes through a barricade, we are trained to shoot the driver to stop the vehicle."

Mr Kwek said some "what if" questions were raised in the inquiry, including what if the police had waited until they had an opportunity to verify why the car crashed through, and if its occupants did indeed have the intent to carry out a terrorist attack.

However, he said "this would not have been easy or even possible" for the police based on the facts. The lesson "cannot be that the police should hesitate from stopping threats in similar situations in future".

State Coroner Marvin Bay will reveal his findings on April 22.


Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated the name of man who was shot dead as Mohamed Taufik Zahar instead of Mohamad Taufik Zahar. This has been corrected.