KARACHI: The military said on Friday that it had foiled a militants’ plan to storm a jail in Hyderabad and free about 100 of their aides, including US journalist Daniel Pearl’s murder convict Omar Saeed Sheikh commonly known as Sheikh Omar.
Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa also announced that 97 militants, including three ‘most wanted’ leaders of banned militant organisations, had been arrested.
Addressing a press conference at the Corps V Headquarters, he gave details of the progress made in the Rangers-led operation in Karachi and successes achieved over the past few months mainly through “intelligence-based operations”. But he said the job was yet to be completed and the operation would continue till all targets were met.
97 militants, including 3 most wanted leaders of banned outfits, arrested
“During past few months our intelligence agencies have busted major gangs mainly belonging to Al Qaeda (subcontinent), Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan,” Gen Bajwa said. During the intelligence-based operations, he said, about 97 militants had been arrested, including three “high-value targets”.
These are Atta-ur-Rehman, alias Naeem Bukhari, Karachi chief of LJ with a head money of Rs20 million; his deputy Sabir Khan alias Munna (head money Rs5m); and Farooq Bhatti alias Musanna, Naib Emir of Al Qaeda (subcontinent) with a head money of Rs15m.
But the most chilling disclosure made by the ISPR chief was details of the Hyderabad jailbreak planned by the arrested militant leaders who had hired a house in the second largest city of Sindh, set up a business and spent months to design the attack, but were nabbed before its execution.
“They had completed 90 per cent planning of the attack,” he said, but declined to share the timeline of the operation. He only used the word a “few months ago” about the arrest of the first suspect of the network.
“They first hired a house in Latifabad No 5 and then started business of plastic containers. The house was used to store the containers. During these months they brought arms from Karachi in washing machines as well as explosives,” he said.
Gen Bajwa showed a hand-made drawing of the jail attack plan and a video clip of the house where the arms and explosives had been stored. The arms included assault rifles AK-47 which, according to him, were snatched from policemen. About 350kg explosives were seized after their arrest.
“According to their plan, they had to first carry out suicide attacks and rammed explosives-laden vehicles into two entrances of the jail. They had prepared two ‘killing teams’ which would storm the jail. They had a list of about 40 people who had to kill and set free about 100 high-profile prisoners, including Omar Sheikh and Shahzad Ahmed, who was involved in an attack on the Karachi corps commander in 2004. They also had the support of an insider – a constable of jail police – who also was arrested,” Gen Bajwa said.
He said all suspects of the jailbreak plan had been arrested by intelligence agencies. Included among them were the masterminds, 12 facilitators, an IED (improvised explosive device) expert, handler of suicide bombers, the person who hired the house for the militants and six foreigners who were being prepared as suicide bombers.
It was in 2011 when Sheikh Omar had been shifted to the Hyderabad jail. A number of high-profile convicts are imprisoned in the colonial-era facility built in 1894.
The ISPR claim about the Hyderabad jailbreak plan came as second such attempt foiled by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. In October 2014, Sindh Rangers raided a house near Karachi prison which was used by suspects to tunnel their way to their targeted barrack.
The suspects were arrested when they had already dug up a 45-metre-long and 10-metre-deep tunnel from an underground water tank inside the house situated in Ghausia Colony, near the jail.
Gen Bajwa said the arrested militant leaders were also wanted in major incidents of terrorism across the country which they had planned and carried out while staying in Karachi. The list of the incidents he shared with journalists included attacks on the Manawa police centre in 2009, FIA Lahore building and ISI headquarters in Lahore and Multan.
He said the same group was involved in attacks on Karachi’s Mehran Airbase in 2011, Kamra Airbase in 2012, ISI headquarters in Sukkur in 2013 and the Karachi airport in 2014.
The ISPR chief said the recent successes and arrests were a result of the consistent operation by intelligence agencies, adding that the recent peace in Karachi was an outcome of persistent efforts by Rangers which had conducted about 7,000 operations since September 2013 and apprehended over 12,210 suspects.
“Let me tell you that our security forces have achieved numerous successes during Karachi operation, but the job is not over yet. The army chief has personal commitment with the people of Karachi that this operation will continue till we restore complete and sustainable peace in the city. No one should have doubts about it as the army chief has shown personal interest and keeps visiting Karachi frequently for that purpose,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2016