KARACHI, Feb 28: When instructions came to kill charity workers on Sept 25, 2002, Mohammed Atif found that doling out death had become simply a part of the job. Along with four other accomplices, the 30-year-old entered the Rimpa Plaza offices of Idara Aman-o-Insaf in a hit that left seven workers dead.
But it had not always been so simple. The first time he was given the assignment of taking down another human being, earlier in 2002, Atif gave into his fear and refused to do it.
“Wajahat, my recruiter, told Zubair and myself to go into the Gulshan-i-Iqbal office but I got scared and refused to go in since it was my first ‘job’”, he told investigators. “So he sent Asad and Zubair, both of whom were carrying TT pistols fitted with silencers, to finish the job while Wajahat and I sat waited at a nearby tea stall. Shortly afterwards, Asad and Zubair came out, walked briskly to the bus stop and got on a coach headed towards Civic Centre. Then Wajahat and I boarded a Nipa-bound coach and took a connecting bus to Landhi.”Mohammed Atif is one of the three suspects arrested by the CID police earlier this week under suspicion of involvement in the May 22, 2002 death of the then chairman of the Catholic community, Mr Aven Adven, through the administration of a lethal injection. During the course of interrogations, said investigators, Atif and his accomplices Zubairuddin (alias Sharjeel) and Asif (alias Pasha) also confessed to the Rimpa Plaza killings. The three suspects belong to Landhi and Korangi, and the police recovered three pistols and a stolen motorcycle from their possession at the time of arrest.
Atif’s statements provide some insight into the process through which ordinary young men are turned into cold-blooded killers.
Recruiting and training
Having completed a matriculation degree, Atif joined the Korangi Degree Science College but dropped out during the first year. He told investigators that in 1993, Tayyaba Masjid in his area used to be a centre of religious preaching that used to send young men on preaching trips to the interior of Sindh. This became a regular feature in Atif’s life and during these trips, he became fast friends with Abid and Waseem. In 2000, the newly-freed Maulana Masood Azhar came to Karachi and the Jaish-i-Mohammed was formed. Atif learned that his friends had joined the Jaish, and that Waseem and another friend, Arif, were undergoing training in Afghanistan.
Atif was convinced and soon afterwards boarded a bus from the Lasbela office of the Jaish-i-Mohammed, which was taking recruits for training in Afghanistan. However, they went only as far as Balakot in the NWFP, where the 50-odd young men underwent 25 days of training during which they were taught techniques of handling and dismantling pistols and Kalashnikovs. “The focus of the training was mainly on physical fitness,” Atif told the investigators.
Upon his return, Atif was introduced to Wajahat at Tayyaba Masjid by Waseem. “He introduced me with the words, ‘Atif is also a jihadi’”, recalled the young man.
In 2001, Atif opened a sports goods shop near Korangi Crossing and it became a regular haunt of Wajahat, who brought with him his friend Zubair [currently in police custody along with Atif].
“Wajahat would often lecture us about certain Jewish organisations working against Islam in Pakistan,” Atif said during interrogations. “He used to tell us to be mentally prepared to take action against the people involved in and running these organisations.”
The killings at Rimpa Plaza
The first time Atif was called to ‘duty’ in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal office, he turned in a craven performance. He steeled himself for the next time, however, and on June 20, 2002, took part in a killing at the office of Taro International in the Defence Housing Authority. Atif and his accomplices trussed up all the people present inside the office and administered a lethal injection to the owner, Malick Tariq Allahwalla, who was also a former office bearer of the Rotary Club.
The group’s biggest hit, perhaps, was the massacre at the Idara Aman-o-Insaf, a Christian charity organisation.
“Following our usual practice, Wajahat told me and the others to come to Saddar, from where we got on the bus on the 17-H route and took a rickshaw to Rimpa Plaza,” Atif told the authorities. “I took up my position at the office’s reception, Zubair and Abid took the people who had been in the reception to a small room on the side, while Wajahat and Pasha [also currently in police custody] went into the office. They tied all the people up with ropes and tapes and I heard faint gunshots. But a man in his mid-fifties was making a lot of noise and offering resistance, so he was taken into the washroom. After closing the door, Pasha shot him but forgot to use the silencer, so the gunshot made a lot of noise. The noise panicked all of us so we left the office as fast as possible and took different buses out of the area. The next day, Wajahat told us that we had forgotten to kill one person but fortunately the police suspected only him, Wajahat, of the murder.”
Atif told the investigators the Wajahat was the ring-leader of their gang and used to plan the operations himself.
“He was an educated man and a computer expert, and was also fond of reading,” said Atif. “He underwent training in Afghanistan and had a good mind. Well over a year after that operation, I met him in 2003 in Korangi No. 6 near a sweet shop. He told me that he was in the garment import-export business and visited Dubai frequently. My financial conditions were not very good at the time and he gave me two thousand rupees.”
According to the information given by Atif, that Wajahat encouraged him to prepare for a visit to Dubai which came through in December 2003. Through his contacts, Wajahat got Atif a job that earned him 1,600 dirhams. Atif visited Dubai twice after that but both men returned permanently to Pakistan in September 2004, after Wajahat defaulted on some payments.
Atif got married in December 2005 and now has a one-and-a-half-year-old son called Abu Huraira.
Mohammed Atif and his accomplices Zubairuddin and Pasha were arrested by the CID police on Feb 26 following a raid on their hideout in Akhtar Colony. On Wednesday, they were remanded into police custody until March 3 by civil and judicial magistrate South, Ashraf Hussain Khwaja. The apparent ring-leader of the gang, Wajahat, remains at large.