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KARACHI: A Joint Investigation Team ‘reinvestigating’ the Baldia factory fire case that claimed the lives of 259 workers and caused injuries to 50 labourers in Karachi in 2012 has come to the conclusion that it was a “planned sabotage and terrorist activity”.

The JIT report, obtained by Dawn on Monday, said: “Based upon available evidence and expert opinions, the JIT has come to conclusion that factory fire was a planned sabotage/terrorist activity and not an accidental fire.”

It added that the alleged terrorist act was carried out “due to refusal to pay extortion (Bhatta) of Rs20 (Twenty) crores and partnership in factory profits by factory owners to office-bearers, namely Rehman Bhola and Hammad Siddiqi of MQM-A”.

JIT members were of the considered opinion that the incident was dealt with in an ‘unprofessional manner’. They termed it ‘a classic manifestation of compromised and mutilated form of policing’.

“The incident was handled from inception till end in a ‘way and fashion’ to benefit the ‘offenders’ rather than the ‘victims of crime’ for some ‘motives and gains’.”

The JIT pointed out that the lodging of an FIR and subsequent investigations were carried out not only with ‘clear mala fide intentions but also suffered heavily from ‘tremendous influence’ both ‘internal’ and ‘extraneous’.

“An event of ‘terrorist activity’ was portrayed/translated in FIR as simple murder (later converted into an accident) not against actual perpetrators of crime but against factory owners and its management. The way the incident was probed into speaks volumes about partisan and partial approach of police under influence,” it added.

The JIT members were surprised to note that the FIR and the first investigation nowhere mentioned extortion (Bhatta) and they (JIT members) believed that it was the basic motive and crucial element to plan, prepare and carry out this dastardly act.

The JIT considered this omission as an ‘element of prime and critical importance’ as well as a ‘defining factor’ to shape up later investigations.

“Hence, the JIT recommended that FIR No. 343/2012 u/s 322/337/34 PPC of PS Site-B Karachi shall be withdrawn by the State.”

Instead, JIT members suggested that a fresh FIR should be lodged under relevant sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 1861, read with the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997, against several accused.

The JIT mentioned proposed suspects/accused to be named in the fresh FIR as “Rehman Bhola, Hammad Siddiqui, Zubair @ Chariya, Omer Hassan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri, Mst Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and four unknown associates of Zubair alias Chariya”.

It proposed that the suspects/accused absconding to foreign countries should be brought back and arrested and passports of all the absconding accused be cancelled and their names be placed on the ECL immediately.

It called for providing protection to all witnesses under the Witness Protection Act.

The JIT report revealed that the extortion extracted from the Baldia factory owners was used to purchase a bungalow of 1,000 square yards in Latifabad (plot No. 175, Block C, Unit No. VI) in Hyderabad through ‘post-incident bank transactions’, and suggested to transfer back the attached property to the factory owners through a legal process.

It recommended to the authorities that in order to minimise the losses to life and property by any such terrorist activity in future, new laws and safety procedures should be devised and factory owners and employees be trained to cope with such terrorist activities.

JIT members noted with concern that the rescue services available in Karachi having a population of 22 million were not capable enough to deal with such catastrophes of terrorism and mega accidents.

“Hence a high-powered committee of experts in rescue services with relevant qualifications from public and private sectors may be constituted to submit a study report along with recommendations within three months for overhauling the present rescue services.”

JIT members appeared to be highly critical of the role of police investigators of the Baldia fire case.

“The gory act of Baldia Factory Fire was a glaring example of police inefficiency in dealing and investigating this high-profile incident in right directions without any fear and favour,” they noted.

The JIT was of the view that it (police probe) showed “classic police failure in ascertaining not only the truth but also in booking and apprehending the real culprits involved in the commission of crime from planning to execution stage”.

It said “the incident history clearly manifested how police lodged a motivated FIR and subsequently raises eyebrows the way investigations into the incident were conducted”.

The JIT carried out a critique of the first investigation and concluded that ‘fear and favour’ were dominating factors throughout and affected police performance ‘length and breadth’.

“The JIT therefore strongly recommends introduction of police reforms in order to avoid recurrence of such catastrophic investigative failures in future.

“The in vogue archaic policing system should be replaced with professionally independent but accountable policing system including up-gradation of its technical facilities, especially forensic laboratory that currently is devoid of modern facilities and fire experts.”

The JIT was led by the then deputy inspector general of CIA, Sultaan Ali Khowaja, and comprised senior officers of FIA, police, Rangers and intelligence agencies.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2016