KARACHI: Five people, including two seminary student brothers, were killed in two armed attacks in different areas on Saturday ‘apparently as a tit-for-tat killing on sectarian grounds’ but investigators claimed to have found enough evidence to suggest that a particular group was executing both jobs and Rangers traced crucial ‘leads that a political party is behind these killings’.

The ‘targeted operation’, which entered its fifth month on Saturday, has brought down violence, extortion threats and killings on political grounds but it has yet to curb sectarian killings.

However, the investigators and the Rangers, leading the ‘targeted operation’, insisted that the killings did not reflect the past trend when banned outfits were mostly involved in fatal attacks on people of different sects as this time it was only an attempt to show it as sectarian differences to fuel hatred.

In the first incident, more than half a dozen armed riders attacked a roadside juice shop in Gulshan-i-Iqbal near the Maskan roundabout and killed three young Shia men that also left four persons wounded only two weeks after a similar assault on an eatery in the same area, killing three Sunni youngsters, including two brothers.

“There is an Agha Raza juice centre owned by a man belonging to the Hazara Shia community,” said an official at the Gulshan-i-Iqbal police station. “The shutter of the shop was half closed as they were preparing to close the shop. At least four motorcycles were seen carrying eight young men. Three of them got off the motorbikes and fired dozens of 9mm pistol shots at the people standing in and outside the juice shop and sped away. The firing left three people dead and four injured.”

The victims were taken to a nearby private hospital, where the dead were identified as 40-year-old Hussain Ali, Abdul Wahid, 22, and Nadir Ali, 40, who were later shifted to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre for medico-legal formalities. The injured included Ghulam Sakhi, Tasawwur Abbas, Jawad Ali and Raees Ahmed.

“The shop used to stay open till late in the night. The attackers chose the timing when it was about to close and there were only workers and a few customers at the time of the incident. A Hi-roof van was also hit and badly damaged by multiple bullets,” said the official.

Just four hours after the midnight assault, two young brother students of Madrassah Ahsan-ul-Uloom in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, riding to their seminary were attacked. The area police said 25-year-old Abid Abdullah and his younger brother Sajid Abdullah were intercepted by armed men riding a motorbike, who then hit them with two bullets each on their head near the UBL Sports Complex and sped away.

“The victims were students of Dars-i-Nizami at Madrassah Ahsan-ul-Uloom,” said an official at the Jauharabad police station. “They were residents of Malik Anwar Goth in Gabol Town and used to take the same route for their seminary. The incident seemed to be in reaction to the late night attacks on sectarian grounds.”

The killings sparked anger among the Madrassah Ahsan-ul-Uloom students, who took to the main Rashid Minhas Road and blocked it by burning wooden stuff in protest. Life remained paralysed in parts of Gulshan-i-Iqbal as traders kept their businesses closed and traffic off the road for more than two hours due to the tense situation. It eased only after the police authorities intervened and persuaded the protesters to disperse.

Though the back-to-back incidents of targeted killings followed by the protest triggered fear in the neighbourhood, there was no reaction from any side blaming organisations of the other sects.

The police also sounded convinced that the fresh episode was more ‘terrorism than sectarianism’. To support their claim they cited the initial findings of the investigation of the two different incidents which suggested ‘multiple similarities’.

“We have a few eyewitnesses in both cases,” said DIG-East Munir Sheikh. “One would wonder to know that the accounts they shared suggested that almost the same two-wheelers, the same style to mask their faces and people of almost the same physiques executed both jobs which claimed lives of people from different sects.”

He also cited an ‘organised pattern’ to first attack people of one sect and after a few hours target the other ones to give it a sectarian colour.

The Rangers, however, went a step forward to share their findings repeating the same suspicion on ‘some leads’ they found.

“The current spike in sectarian killings in Karachi is a conspiracy to disrupt law and order in the city to achieve ulterior motives and Rangers have already got some leads that a political party is behind these killings,” said a statement of Pakistan Rangers, Sindh. “The Ahl-i-Tashi and Ahl-i-Sunaat communities are living in harmony, but some anti-state elements are trying to create sectarian strife. The law-enforcement agencies will soon arrest the culprits behind this conspiracy.”It also mentions raids conduced by the Rangers in Qayyumabad, Darwaish Colony, Mehran Town, Rafa-i-Aam Society, old Sabzimandi, Gulshan-i-Hadeed, Chawla Market and Shah Waliullah Nagar areas on Saturday night, which led to the arrest of ‘10 hardened criminals’.