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KARACHI: Even after the passage of nine years, formal trial in a case pertaining to the 2009 Ashura bombing has yet to start as the law enforcement agencies remain clueless about the whereabouts of three suspected Jundullah militants, who were allegedly involved in the attack, and had escape from their custody at the city courts, it emerged on Thursday.

More than 45 people were killed as the devastating bomb blast ripped through the Ashura procession on the M.A. Jinnah Road in December 2009.

“The four cases pertaining to the targeted attacks on mourning processions, including that on the main Ashura procession are still kept on the dormant file,” a judicial official at an antiterrorism court, where the cases are pending trial, told Dawn.

More than 45 people lost their lives in deadly bomb blast on M.A. Jinnah Road in 2009

“The police and other law enforcement agencies have failed to turn up to show any progress regarding arrest of the suspects, who are still at large,” added the official, requesting anonymity.

Four suspects — Murtaza alias Shakil, Mohammad Saqib Farooqui, Wazir Mohammad and Murad Shah — said to be associated with banned militant outfit Jundullah, were arrested in January 2010 and booked in the four cases pertaining to a series of attacks on Muharram processions.

But they were freed from the police custody by their accomplices after a gun attack on the premises of the crowded City Courts judicial complex on June 20, 2010.

One of the four suspects, Murad Shah, was killed while fleeing, but his accomplices were never caught again.

“After the suspects managed to flee from their custody the investigating officer informed the anti-terrorism court (ATC-III) about it,” a prosecution department official told Dawn, wishing not to be named.

“Ever since the trial is kept dormant and the files have been shelved,” the official added.

Abating the legal proceedings in all the cases, the trial court had issued life warrants for the arrest of the three suspects and directed the police to produce them in court “as soon as possible”.

While the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of police said they were high-profile criminals associated with the proscribed Jundullah, the suspects were not tried in court inside the prison and the jail authorities sent them to the city courts without making proper security arrangements.

It is the responsibility of investigating officers to ask or recommend the home department through a letter to notify jail trial of hardened criminals in high-profile cases or if the jail authorities had insufficient security arrangement to take them to courts.

Justice delayed

Legal experts believed that the prolonged suspension of the proceeding in such high-profile cases always benefited the accused party as prosecution witnesses might change their residences or go underground.

Also, it is hard for a witness to remember the exact evidence for years while it is also a difficult task for the investigating officers to maintain the case property, police files and stay in touch with their witnesses.

The SIU said that the suspected militants were arrested after a shoot-out on Hawkesbay Road on Jan 23, 2010 and claimed that they had confessed to having carried out the attacks on the Muharram processions.

Subsequently, they were charge-sheeted under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 and their cases were sent to the ATC-III for trial and the court had supplied copies of documents to the suspects under Section 265-C of the criminal procedure code. However, they escaped before their indictment.

Murtaza and Saqib were booked for killing over 45 people and wounding about 100 others in the bomb attack on the main Ashura procession on Dec 28, 2009. The duo were also charge-sheeted in the Paposh Nagar blast that took place on Dec 26, 2009 (8th of Muharram) when a Muharram procession was passing by and it left 13 people wounded.

Murad Shah along with his absconding accomplices Haider, Hasnain and Sajid was charge-sheeted in a case pertaining to a low-intensity blast that targeted a 9th Muharram procession in Qasba Colony on Dec 27, 2009.

Besides, the four suspects were also booked in a case under Sections 4/5 of the Explosive Substance Act, 1908 read with Section 7 of the ATA at the Sir Syed police station, as the police claimed to have recovered explosive material on a lead provided by them.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2018