Outgoing year sees terrorism rear its ugly head in Karachi again

Updated December 26, 2018

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A bomb disposal squad member checks a bag belonging to an attacker outside the Chinese consulate after the attack in Karachi on November 23, 2018. ─ AFP/File
A bomb disposal squad member checks a bag belonging to an attacker outside the Chinese consulate after the attack in Karachi on November 23, 2018. ─ AFP/File

KARACHI: Although terrorism and targeted killings committed by banned sectarian outfits have been decreasing in the metropolis since 2013 because of a continuous operation by the security forces, there have been three major acts of terrorism, including the deadly attack on the Chinese consulate, during 2018 which were allegedly perpetrated by sub-nationalist groups, it emerged on Tuesday.

The city also witnessed a ‘bomb attack’ on a gathering of a political party and killing of workers of another political party, and the police apprehended that ‘political killings’ might emerge as another challenge for them in the near future.

Three policemen were also shot dead in the outgoing year, but the TTP claimed responsibility for the killing of one policeman while the two other policemen might have fallen victim to “sectarianism or revenge killing”, said police officials.

Attack on Chinese consulate

The gun-cum-grenade attack by three militants linked to the banned Balochistan Liberation Army on the Chinese consulate in Clifton was considered a major act of terrorism in 2018, which claimed the lives of two policemen and two visa applicants, father and son, before all attackers were eliminated.

Police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officer-in-charge of the Transnational Terrorism Intelligence Group (TTIG) Raja Umar Khattab told Dawn that “significant progress” had been made in the case.

Fear of killings on political grounds heightens in Karachi

Mr Khattab, who is investigating the case, recalled that the CCTV footage obtained from outside the consulate showed that one of the attackers after being shot at and wounded by policeman posted there crawled towards the wall of nearby house.

“The attacker opened a burst on himself from his Kalashnikov after being injured apparently to avoid arrest by law enforcers who had arrived at the scene,” said the CTD official while sharing the CCTV footage.

Of the two other attackers who proceeded to the reception room of the consulate, one was killed at a “close range” as per the medical report, indicating the possibility that he also committed suicide by shooting himself to death to avoid arrest, opined Mr Khattab.

“It was a suicide mission,” added the official.

The BLA claimed responsibility even when the operation was going under way. “The attack on the Chinese consulate was RAW-inspired to target CPEC,” said the TTIG chief.

He claimed that they had “proofs” that the planning of the attack on the foreign mission was carried out abroad and funds were also provided from abroad. “We have evidences that the China consulate attackers were in contact with their masters abroad,” he said.

He also believed that the bomb attack under Quaidabad flyover, which claimed the lives of two teenage vendors, and the car ‘bomb explosion’ in Defence were also ‘foreign-inspired’ terror acts.

Mr Khattab suggested that the modus operandi and type of explosives used in the Quaidabad incident indicated the involvement of Sindhi sub-nationalist groups. “There was a link between Sindhi and Baloch sub-nationalist groups and they were being operated from abroad.”

As for the Defence explosion, he said the CCTV footage obtained from the area showed that two suspects driving a car and a motorbike arrived there and parked the car on a plot to carry out the explosion through gas cylinders. Later on, they left the place on the motorbike.

“There was a lot of resemblance in all these three terror acts,” said the official.

He recalled that around two and half years back, the Sindhi sub-nationalist group had carried out an act of terrorism near the parking plaza in Saddar in which the both attackers were killed when an improvised explosive device attached to a motorbike exploded “accidentally”.

Different teams were working on these three terror acts and Mr Khattab was hopeful that they would “eliminate” the threat posed by sub-nationalist groups in the city.

Killing of policemen

Three policemen, including a traffic police official, were shot dead in the city during 2018.

The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in a video claimed the responsibility for the killing of a Gulberg police official, Shakir Ali.

For the killing of another policeman, Syed Ahmed Abbas Rizvi, in New Karachi, the CTD official cited two possible motives. He might have fallen victim to “sectarianism” as being member of the Shia community. In the same area, two members of the banned Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat were shot dead by gunmen riding a motorcycle and the policeman’s killing might have been carried out in “revenge”.

Secondly, Mr Khattab recalled that Abbas Rizvi was also a “witness” in a criminal case against two sectarian militants and he had been appearing in the case for the previous three and half years owing to which the held accused could not get bail.

The TTIG head said the killing of traffic police official Mohammad Rafiq off the Superhighway was also a terror act and they suspected the involvement of the “sleeper cell” of banned militant outfits.

Raja Umar Khattab, who has extensively investigated terror acts in the city for the last several years, said the banned TTP and AQIS had been “weakened” due to the continuous operation by the security forces while the Ansarul Sharia Pakistan had been “almost wiped out”.

In the recent past, these three militant groups openly targeted police mobiles and carried out IED explosions, but their capacity to challenge the law enforcers and carry out bomb blasts had been “significantly reduced”.

The TTP or the AQIS now make “soft target” such as a lone policeman.

However, Mr Khattab apprehended that Afghanistan-based IS, or Daesh, still posed a challenge.

“The IS prefers specific targets such as shrines in Sindh and Balochistan,” said the official.

Fear of killings on political grounds

The city also witnessed a ‘low-intensity bomb’ attack during a function organised by the MQM-P in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, which caused injuries to eight persons, and the police suspected “internal rifts” behind the incident.

Furthermore, two workers of the Pak Sarzameen Party were shot dead and two others were wounded in an attack on the party’s office in Rizvia Society on Dec 23.

Mr Khattab apprehended that “political killings” might increase in the city in the future. He said during interrogation of a suspect belonging to the ‘South Africa network’ and others recently, it had transpired that certain elements were allegedly planning “political killings” in the metropolis.

Besides, “differences” have been intensified among different groups, which might give rise to targeted killings on political grounds.

964 personnel ‘counter-terror force’ established

The CTD official said that to enhance the capacity of the police, the army had trained 964 policemen who would be made members of the ‘counter-terror force’ recently established by the Sindh CTD to fight terrorism.

Besides, the CTD has imported software to enhance its technical capability. Furthermore, the CTD has decided to set up a section for “monitoring of social media”.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2018