Gurkha officer gives account of Shangri-La shooting

He re-enacts how he followed training in opening fire after driver failed to obey orders to stop car

A Gurkha officer guarding a high-security checkpoint outside the Shangri-La Hotel had just started his shift in the early hours of May 31 when he saw a car crash through the concrete security barriers despite shouts to stop.

The officer, who was part of a two-man Vehicle Counter Assault Team at the checkpoint, immediately moved towards the car and aimed his firearm at it.

After his own shouts for the car to stop went unheeded, he aimed his weapon at the silhouette of the 34-year-old driver, Mohamad Taufik Zahar, and opened fire, just as he had been trained to do.

His fourth and final shot hit Taufik, and the car came to a crawl.

Yesterday, the Gurkha officer gave his version of events on the second day of a coroner's inquiry into Taufik's death. As he could not be identified due to the sensitive nature of his work, he testified via video-link. He was also made to re-enact his actions on the day.

With his back to the camera, the officer showed how he had pointed his weapon at the car, moving alongside it and shouting "Police, stop!" loudly and in quick succession before firing his weapon.

As the officer did the re-enactment, Taufik's family members, including his wife, looked visibly distraught and sobbed.

The hotel in Orange Grove Road and its vicinity had been placed under a tight security net from May 28 to 31, as it was hosting the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major security summit attended by defence ministers and military chiefs from 27 countries. Of particular concern to police were vehicles carrying improvised explosive devices - a weapon commonly used in terror attacks.

Under questioning by Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck and Taufik's family lawyer M. Mahendran, the Gurkha officer reiterated that his duty was to stop any vehicle which breached the barriers, at all costs.

"My aim, my duty, was to stop the vehicle," said the officer, a marksman who has been with the police for eight years. "In my training, if a vehicle crashes through a barricade, we are trained to shoot the driver to stop the vehicle."

He had given multiple verbal orders for the driver to stop the car, and had to shoot the driver to stop it, after his colleague's single shot to the front windscreen had failed to do so. Aiming for the largest part of the driver's silhouette, he opened fire when the car showed no signs of stopping, he said.

Earlier, police staff sergeant Wang Zhenxiong also testified that he and a colleague had stopped the car at a vehicle check station in front of the barrier.

Taufik's friend in the rear seat seemed agitated and had asked the policeman through the window: "Why are you checking me?"

But before the officer could reply, the passenger shouted at Taufik to drive off. Taufik complied, ignoring shouts and knocks on the car to stop.

Forensic pathologist Lee Chin Thye meanwhile testified that Taufik died almost instantaneously after being hit about 4cm horizontally behind his upper right ear by a high-velocity bullet, which fragmented upon impact and caused severe brain damage.

Taufik's blood was also found to contain low quantities of the controlled drugs Erimin-5 and amphetamine. The level of methamphetamine, a stimulant drug, however, was about 30 times above prescription limits. This could have caused effects such as restlessness, euphoria, hallucinations, rapid flight of ideas or irritability.

The inquiry will resume at a later date.


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. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Gurkha officer gives account of Shangri-La shooting'. Print Edition | Subscribe