‘The last message we received from him was “I’m at a safe place, don’t worry about me’’’

Published June 11, 2014
Relatives of the cold storage victims grieve near the mortuary in the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre on Tuesday.—Online
Relatives of the cold storage victims grieve near the mortuary in the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre on Tuesday.—Online

KARACHI: “If they had done something earlier in the night, my son would have been alive today,” is the first thing Inayatullah Safdar’s mother, Erum, says on seeing a reporter step into her room.

On Tuesday morning charred remains of the seven cargo workers were retrieved from the cold-room facility 26 hours after they took refuge there when the airport came under attack. The families said that it was only after they staged a protest near the Star Gate that the authorities finally listened to their incessant pleas. Most of them stood there till late in the night as huge flames engulfed the warehouse “leading up to the cold-room facility in a corner”.

Sitting in a corner, huddled closely with her mother, Inayatullah’s sister refused to speak at first. The mother continued repeating that “it was pure negligence”. Living in Malir 2, Khokhrapar, the family was not done with the funeral rites till late afternoon and were waiting for their relatives to arrive.

Father of two, Inayatullah had been heading the administrative sector of the cargo area for six years. This is not the first tragedy for the family as Inayat’s father died in a similar way inside a ship a few years ago.

Two blocks away from Inayat’s home, 26-year-old Nabeel Ahmed’s family continued receiving relatives, friends and colleagues in their two-room apartment in Saudabad, Malir.

Nabeel was the first one to inform his family about an attack inside the airport. On Sunday, at 11:05pm, Nabeel’s sister Sana received a text message from him asking her whether there was a report of an attack by militants on TV channels. “We got worried because at the time not a single news channel had reported anything,” his sister said. Fifteen minutes later the news filtered in that the airport was in fact under attack by militants who were trying to get close to the planes parked on the tarmac.

The cargo complex destroyed by the fire that erupted in the wake of the militant attack on Karachi airport on Sunday night.—Online
The cargo complex destroyed by the fire that erupted in the wake of the militant attack on Karachi airport on Sunday night.—Online

“The last message that we received from him was that ‘I’m at a safe place, don’t worry about me’. We had been in contact with him till 4:15am. After that his mobile phone went off,” added his sister.

From inside the cold-room facility, Fareedullah Humayun was constantly in touch with the head of the workers union, Yunus Khan.

Speaking by telephone, Yunus told Dawn that he was on leave and was trying to help those trapped inside.

“Fareedullah told me that there were three terrorists inside the import operation warehouse which houses the cold-room facility. The warehouse is roughly 400 metres long, full of raw material, chemicals, machinery and medicines. There were 12 people from the cargo department inside the warehouse at the time — four of them managed to escape, one is still missing, and seven of them ran towards the cold-room storage,” he said.

Through the phone calls, Yunus continued giving directions to Fareedullah until one of the suicide bombers blew himself up.

The terrorists, he said, were constantly firing into the air and at anyone they thought posed a threat to them. “Fareedullah was also injured and told me that he slipped while running away from them. Of the three terrorists, one was shot by an ASF commando; another ran out, while the third one with a suicide vest blew himself up at around 3am, because of which the chemicals inside the warehouse caught fire. I lost touch with Fareedullah soon after that.”

When Fareedullah didn’t receive his phone till 4:30am, Yunus went towards the warehouse with a few men to inquire what was happening.

Pictures and ID cards of the victims of the cargo complex fire on display on Tuesday.
—Online
Pictures and ID cards of the victims of the cargo complex fire on display on Tuesday. —Online

“There are two warehouses right next to each other. One is used for import operations and the other for delivery. The import operation warehouse caught fire. From there it engulfed the entire cold-room facility near it in flames, from where it went towards the delivery warehouse.”

The CAA director general, retired Air Marshal Mohammad Yusuf, however, said in a press statement that “the bodies were recovered from the warehouse and not from the cold-room facility”. But the family members of the victims refuted his statement calling it “a face-saving measure by them”.

The families of the workers having learnt of the fire tried to get inside the facility, but were stopped by security personnel.

“We understood that they had a bigger menace to deal with. But we were also pleading with the authorities to at least get the Civil Aviation Authority to do something,” said Sana.

Yunus added that after an hour-long wait they managed to get inside. “There were 10 fire tenders standing there, but as much as they tried to extinguish the fire, it aggravated further.”

On Tuesday morning, when the bodies of the seven workers were taken out, they were burnt beyond recognition. “We could only recognise three — Saifur Rehman from his height, Nabeel Ahmed from the chain he wore around his neck, and a slightly burnt picture of Inayatullah in his upper pocket helped us recognise him,” he added quietly.

Furthermore, when the bodies were taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s mortuary the doctors there gave them three choices. “Wait for the DNA samples report, which takes 21 days; bury the bodies near one another while waiting for the DNA reports, as we were told all of them were Muslims, so it shouldn’t matter who buried whom; to recognise the bodies — which is the most arduous task in such circumstances,” said Yunus.

All the family members decided to bury the dead and are now waiting for the DNA reports.

“As much as I hate myself for saying this, but who will help me run my household after Nabeel?” said his sister. “I’ll have to wait for the DNA samples report. This is the only proof I have that my brother is dead.”

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2014

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