RAWALPINDI: Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Thursday signed the death warrants of five "hardcore terrorists", said a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

An ISPR statement issued said the men were convicted for "perpetrating Safoora bus attack and were also involved in improvised explosive device (IED) blast near Saleh Masjid Karachi, killing of social worker Sabeen Mahmud and attacks on law enforcement agencies."

Details of convicts

  • Saad Aziz alias Tin Tin - tried on nine charges
  • Tahir Hussain Minhas alias Sain - tried on ten charges
  • Asad-ur-Rehman alias Malik - tried on four charges
  • Hafiz Nasir alias Yasir - tried on four charges
  • Mohammad Azhar Ishrat alias Majid - tried on five charges

The convicts admitted their offences before the trial court, added the statement from ISPR.

Saad Aziz - the 'good kid'

That a student from one of Pakistan's finest and most prestigious business schools could become a "trained militant" who "provides funds for terror activities" in the city is difficult to understand for many.

The assertion that Saad Aziz - a BBA graduate from the reputable Institute of Business Administration (IBA) - has confessed to masterminding the murder of rights activist Sabeen Mahmud has been met with disbelief by former schoolmates.

Read: Educated militants

“I remember him being a good kid. He played tennis and football. He had a good sense of humour," says one of Aziz's former schoolmates, requesting anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the case. He added that Aziz earlier studied at the Beaconhouse Schooling System, after which he went on to another elite institution, The Lyceum for his A' Levels and eventually IBA for his undergraduate degree.

Another former schoolmate describes him as "a calm and a composed person". "He used to hang out in the company of boys as well as girls," he added.

'He grew religious over time'

One former IBA student, however, said Aziz may have grown religious over time.

“I know he had become religious, grown a beard and started going on those four-month religious evangelical trips. This is what I know through mutual friends. Maybe he got involved with such people during his religious trips. But he didn’t look the type of person who would be a mass murderer. We are all very shocked by this news.”

He added that no one has been able to contact Aziz' family.

"He was also out of touch with his university friends for a while now. Though he did bump into an IBA class fellow at the Karachi Literary Festival... "

According to a former schoolmate, Aziz is married and also has a child.

He worked at The Cactus, a restaurant in Karachi's Sindhi Muslim that serves a variety of Mexican and continental dishes. An employee at the restaurant told Dawn that the joint is nearly a year old and is owned by Aziz's father, with his son holding an administrative position in the business venture.

Read more: Eye-witnesses identify Saad Aziz and Tahir Hussain in Safoora attack

"Saad is not like that [militant] at all ...It is impossible. His character is not like that. He is a family man," an employee vouches.

Sabeen Mahmud's murder

In April last year, prominent rights activist and co-founder and director of The Second Floor (T2F), Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Karachi.

Sabeen, accompanied by her mother, left T2F after 9pm and was on her way home when she was shot by unidentified gunmen in Defence Phase-II. She died on her way to the hospital. Doctors said they retrieved five bullets from her body.

Her mother also sustained bullet wounds, but survived the wounds.

Safoora Goth massacre

Saad Aziz alias Tin Tin, Tahir Hussain Minhas alias Sain, Asad-ur-Rehman alias Malik, Hafiz Nasir alias Yasir and Mohammad Azhar Ishrat alias Majid were facing trial for their involvement in the killing of 45 Ismaili community members, including 18 women, in a targeted attack on a bus near Safoora Goth on May 13, 2015.

At least 43 people were killed and 13 others wounded when armed men opened fire inside a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community near Safoora Chowk in Karachi.

The armed men used 9mm pistols in the massacre, and managed to flee after the attack.

Military courts

In the wake of the APS carnage, military courts were set up for trying terrorists under amendments made to the Constitution and the Army Act.

Political parties had unanimously agreed over the issue of setting up military courts to tackle terrorism cases in the country following the gruesome attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, following which the Parliament passed the 21st constitutional amendment in Jan 2015 to set up the said courts.

Also read: ‘Safoora bus attack suspects wanted to establish their link with IS’

President Mamnoon Hussain had also promulgated an ordinance further revising the recently amended Army Act to ostensibly aid the functioning of military courts by allowing for trials in camera, i.e without the presence of the public or the media, and over video link if necessary.

The Supreme Court in a majority ruling upheld the establishment of military courts in Pakistan.

Petitions challenging the 21st amendment were dismissed in August last year in a majority 11-6 vote of the 17-member SC bench. Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk and Justice Dost Muhammad announced the verdict.

In a 14-3 majority vote, petitions challenging the 18th amendment were also dismissed by the bench. Judges provided seven opinions and two additional notes on the ruling.

In its editorials, Dawn has criticised the establishment of military courts for "simply not [being] compatible with a constitutional democracy."

Earlier in December, the Ministry of Interior had approved the transfer and trial of 18 cases, including the Safoora Goth massacre and the murder of Sabeen Mahmud, to military courts.