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Footprints: A Korean ‘front’ for Chinese evangelists?

Updated Jun 18, 2017 11:46am

THE pair of young Chinese nationals, executed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group on June 8 near Mastung, often ate their lunch at a small restaurant — Zaiqa — in that middle-class neighbourhood.

The place is hardly a few yards from where the two tourists were kidnapped by gunmen in broad daylight from Jinnah Town last month.

A COPY of notes seized by investigators at the residence of the Korean national Juan Won Seo. —Photo by writer
A COPY of notes seized by investigators at the residence of the Korean national Juan Won Seo. —Photo by writer

“They were here minutes before their kidnappers took them away,” a restaurant employee told Dawn on Friday. “But they did not eat anything that day. They went to the dining hall, but came back after a few moments and left.”

The employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, learnt about the abduction several minutes after the kidnappers had escaped with their hostages.

Police and eyewitness accounts indicate that at least three men dragged Lee Zing Yang, 24, and Meng Li Si, 26, into a white car while the two were looking for a ride home.

A third female companion — another Chinese national — was fortunate enough to get away and run to safety while the kidnappers fired shots to scare away onlookers before driving away.

A passer-by had told the media after the incident that he had rushed to the car to intervene when he saw a Chinese man and a woman being forced into it.

“The kidnappers told him to mind his own business because they were taking the foreigners for investigation and shot him in the foot,” a local reporter who had met the witness shortly after the incident said.

Jinnah Town’s main thoroughfare is quite a busy road with several schools and colleges located in that part of the neighbourhood, along with a few eateries and general provision stores near the scene of the abduction. But no one saw “anything unusual” that afternoon.

“My brother was at the shop at that time but he didn’t witness anything unusual or hear gunshots,” the Pashtun owner of a general store opposite Zaiqa said.

Others approached by Dawn were as curt as him if not more, and avoided discussing the topic.

Both the Chinese man and woman had been living in Quetta since their arrival in the country on a multiple business visa towards the end of last year.

“Initially, they had rented a premises in Arbab Town, before shifting to Gawalmandi when police told them that the place was not safe. They used to move freely around the city and refused police security. They did not hesitate from visiting city areas that are considered extremely dangerous for foreigners and locals because of the alleged presence of activists from militant Baloch groups or sectarian outfits,” a police official said, refusing to give his name.

Both Lee and Meng were part of a group of 13 Chinese men and women brought to Pakistan between November last year and January this year by a Korean, Juan Won Seo, ostensibly to learn Urdu and then teach the language to the other Chinese expected to arrive here in future.

Juan had come to Quetta in 2011 and claimed to be co-owner of a firm, ARK Info Tech, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) besides running an Urdu-language centre. His wife had told a neighbour a few days before the kidnappings that she worked as a physiotherapist. His business partner, another Korean national, also lived nearby.

Two policemen stand guard outside Juan’s place after he and his family were taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency on June 12, apparently for investigation by intelligence agencies and possible deportation.

Investigators believe that Juan — as well as the Chinese nationals — had violated the terms of their visas as they were involved in preaching Christianity.

Quetta’s Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Abdul Razzaque Cheema, told Dawn the Urdu language school was being used by Juan as a front to conceal his evangelical activities.

“The Korean family was training the Chinese nationals in missionary work. We have interviewed around 50 people who were in contact with the Chinese and received text messages or calls from them. All of them have corroborated that the Chinese were involved in preaching.”

Cheema claimed that Juan gave each Chinese national Rs30,000-Rs35,000 for monthly expenses during their stay in the city.

“Law enforcement agencies are investigating where this money came from, because Juan had no known source of income and his firm was just an excuse for him to live in Pakistan. It is more important to probe Juan and his activities right now.”

The government has made extensive arrangements to ensure the security of around 3,000 Chinese nationals working on the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as well as Saindak and other projects. “But we cannot force any Chinese to accept police protection unless he or she is willing to cooperate and abide by the terms of their visas,” the police chief said.

Some analysts in Quetta argued that the reported abduction and eventual execution of the Chinese pair, days after the military announced it had taken out over a dozen Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Al-Almi fighters linked to IS, underscored the presence of its infrastructure in the province.

“While it is important that foreign nationals visiting the restive province should not violate their visa terms, the more important thing is to eliminate whatever organisational structure the dreaded IS has managed to establish,” a senior journalist contended.

Police officials admit the presence of an IS infrastructure in the province.

“We do not have any Arab fighters here. But it is correct to say that some local sectarian militants are in contact with IS in Afghanistan. Even in Quetta, we think 10-12 hardcore LJ men linked to the IS are still active,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2017