KARACHI: Police investigators said on Thursday that the four terrorists arrested for killing 45 members of the Shia Ismaili community in a bus attack near Safoora Goth last week told them that they had targeted human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud because of her campaign against Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz.
The attack on the Ismailis was motivated by sectarian reason, but the arrested, well-educated militants also wanted to create an impact at the international level, Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) official Raja Umer Khattab told Dawn. He helped unearth the militant group allegedly involved in a number of other terrorist activities in Karachi and Hyderabad.
“Crucial evidence found in the bus led to the unearthing of this militant group,” he said, adding that it was not appropriate to share the evidence with media at this moment.
“We have been working on the militant group since April last year, but the latest evidence made our task easy,” Mr Khattab said.
The four militants, including mastermind Tahir alias Sain, were arrested from Gulshan-i-Maymar, which is at a short distance from the place where the bus was attacked.
Initially, the CTD official said, the mastermind was reluctant to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators, but when told that police had sufficient information about him, including the name of his daughter and the place of burial of his grandfather, he started revealing facts about the bus attack and other terrorist activities.
Mr Khattab disclosed that Tahir had earlier been arrested over charges of killing a member of the Hindu community in Hyderabad in 2007 in a kidnapping for ransom case, but was later released.
His brother Shahid, also an alleged militant, was recently killed in an alleged encounter by a police team, led by former SSP Malir Rao Anwar, on the outskirts of Karachi.
About Saad Aziz, another held suspect, the CTD official said the young man went to Waziristan twice for terrorist training. He used to translate Urdu language pamphlets into English. Saad attended a few seminars at the social forum, The Second Floor (T2F) run by slain Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi, and got details of its programmes through its mail address.
He told the interrogators that his group had targeted Sabeen because of her campaign against the Lal Masjid cleric.
The third arrested militant, Mohammad Azfar Ishrat, belongs to a rich family and lives in Dhoraji Colony. Militants used his home as hideout. He carried out a recce before an armed attack on American academic Dr Debra Lobo in Ferozabad recently.
Dr Lobo survived the attempt on her life.
According to the CTD official, the fourth militant, Haafiz Nasir, is a brother of Umer alias Hafeez, who is number two in the militant group. Nasir provided logistical support to the group and worked as a liaison between the militants and their family members.
“The militant outfit comprises about 35 members,” Mr Khattab said, adding that some of its members were active in Hyderabad, where they had also allegedly targeted members of the Bohra community on sectarian grounds.
They did not use communication gadgets, e.g. mobile phones, to avoid being traced or tracked by modern technology of surveillance used by law-enforcement agencies, he said.
Barring Tahir who has been involved in terrorist activities since 1999, the other three have been active since 2007.
The CTD official said that a joint investigation team likely to be formed soon would try to learn about their links with other militant groups. “All I can say at the moment is that different outfits have joined hands to destabilise the government, terrorise people and tarnish the country’s image in the world,” he said.
Mr Khattab said that 12 militants had taken part in the Safoora bus attack. They came from different areas and stayed at a designated place as per their map which was also found by the investigators.
When the bus carrying the Ismailis left Al Azhar Garden, the militants on two motorbikes carrying varsity bags started following it. They were later joined by the other colleagues. They intercepted the bus near Inara Garden and five of them entered it.
One militant, wearing police uniform, pushed the driver away and sat on the driving seat. Initially, they opened indiscriminate fire on the passengers, but later shot at each passenger from a close range. Because of jerk of the bus the driver fell on a militant who shot him dead.
After carrying out the killings, the militants drove towards Superhighway on four motorcycles. Two of their colleagues were waiting for them in two cars. They handed over the weapons to the men.
One of the attackers threw his blood-stained Kameez (shirt) near Superhighway. It was later found by the investigators. The weapons used in the attack and the two cars were also seized.
Mr Khattab said he believed that one of the sources of money for the militant group was kidnapping for ransom.
He said the militants had thrown about 100 pamphlets at the crime scene. The pamphlets also contained the name of SSP Rao Anwar.
The militants told the interrogators that it was on the insistence of Tahir alias Sain whose brother was killed allegedly by Rao Anwar that his name was included. When some of the members of the outfit raised objections, Tahir agreed to delete the name of the police officer, but in the meantime the pamphlets were already published.
A few days ago, the militants attacked the man who helped them get the pamphlets published on suspicion that he was an ‘informer’, but he survived it.