KARACHI: Senior journalist and Karachi bureau chief of Geo News Faheem Siddiqui is busy in planning for the coverage of the religious events of Ashura in the city. However, the activity every year reminds him of the painful events of 2009 Muharram he would never want to repeat in his life as a father, but has to go through as a newsman.
“Obviously, it causes pain. I lost my first child on this day. I lost my niece too,” says Mr Siddiqui referring to the Ashura bomb blast in which more than 45 people were killed on M.A. Jinnah Road on December 28, 2009. Mr Siddiqui’s six-year-old son, Bazil Ahmed Siddiqui, and 13-year-old niece, Anzalna Hanif, were among those killed in the attack.
“We remained issueless for five years after the martyrdom of our son,” the 49-year-old tells Dawn in a gagged voice. Then, Allah, the Almighty, blessed us with three kids, all of them are boys,” he says. “But, the pain for losing our firstborn still haunts us. If Bazil were alive, he would have been 19 today,” adds the father, helplessly.
Mr Siddiqui is among dozens of families of the victims of the tragic incident that shook the nation in general. And they are all awaiting justice for the past 13 years, as the country’s security establishment fails to re-arrest the three Jundullah militants allegedly involved in the bombing, who had escaped from the custody of the police days after their arrest.
13 years on, no progress made to arrest absconders; three ‘Jundullah militant’ reportedly killed
The high-profile Ashura bombing case files are gathering dust in the storeroom of an antiterrorism court (ATC) as Rangers and police are yet to re-arrest the suspects, who had escaped from City Courts.
Four Jundullah men — Murtaza alias Shakil, Mohammad Saqib Farooqui, Wazir Mohammad and Murad Shah — were arrested in January 2010 and booked in four cases pertaining to a series of attacks on Muharram processions in Karachi in 2009.
“The four cases pertaining to the targeted attacks on the mourning processions, including the one on the main Ashura procession, remain shelved in the court’s custody since October 2010 for want of accused,” judicial staffers told Dawn.
Witnesses had reportedly identified four detained suspects during an identification parade held before a judicial magistrate at a pre-trial stage in the cases, according to prosecution officials.
The Jundullah militants, who were arrested after a shoot-out at Hawkesbay in 2010 and had allegedly confessed to the attacks, had escaped from the City Court the same year.
All the suspects were reportedly got freed from police custody by their accomplices after a gun attack on the premises of the crowded City Courts judicial complex on M. A. Jinnah Road, where the police had produced them in another case registered against them by the Anti-Car Lifting Cell on June 20, 2010.
Case still on dormant file
One of the four suspects, Murad Shah, was killed while fleeing, but his alleged accomplices were never caught again.
“After the suspects managed to flee, the investigating officer (IO) informed the ATC-III about it,” said an official.
“Subsequently, the court kept the cases ‘dormant’ because the police and other law enforcement agencies have yet to show any progress regarding the arrest of the suspects, who remain at large after a decade,” added the official.
“The case is still ‘dormant’, as there is no progress till the day,” a judicial official at the trial court told Dawn. “It means the accused are still absconding and have not been brought to the court,” the official added.
The trial court had issued life warrants for the arrest of the three suspects on Oct 7, 2010 directing the police to produce them in court “as soon as possible”.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of police had at the time of their arrest claimed that the suspects were ‘high-profile’ criminals associated with the proscribed outfit. However, they were not tried in a court inside the central prison and jail authorities sent them to the city courts without making proper security arrangements.
It was the responsibility of the IOs to ask or recommend to the home department through a letter to notify the jail trial of hardened criminals in high-profile cases or if the jail authorities had insufficient security arrangement to take them to courts.
Delay favours accused
Legal experts believed that the prolonged suspension of the proceedings 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 IOs to maintain the case property, police files and stay in touch with their witnesses, they added.
The SIU arrested the suspected militants following a shoot-out on Hawkesbay Road on Jan 23, 2010 and claimed that they had allegedly confessed to have 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. 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.
Police filed a charge sheet against the duo in the Paposh Nagar blast that took place on Dec 26, 2009 when an 8th Muharram procession was passing by and it left 13 people wounded.
They also filed a charge sheet against deceased Murad Shah 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 registered under Sections 4/5 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 read with Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the ATA at the Sir Syed police station, as the police claimed to have recovered explosive material on a lead provided by them.
Prosecutor general says absconders killed Sindh Prosecutor General Dr Faiz Shah had last year made a disclosure about the three fleeing suspects by saying that “they were also killed in a shootout with law-enforcers”.
Without elaborating further, Mr Shah had said that according to the IO of the case the absconding suspects had been killed in an encounter.
Talking to Dawn, Dr Shah said that the “situation is the same” and the case was still dormant as there was no progress.
After the lapse of 13 years, Mr Shah’s claim gives the case yet another interesting twist as to whether the law-enforcers have failed to re-arrest the fleeing suspects or they have been killed in an encounter.
In both conditions, the relatives of the victims as well as the survivors of the main Ashura attack still await justice.
Back in his office, journalist Siddiqui is not only preparing himself for the coverage of this year’s Ashura procession, but also bracing himself to go through the same pain yet again.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022