• Forensic tests reveal letters contained ‘traces of arsenic’, not anthrax
• CTD Islamabad expands probe after letters traced to Rawalpindi GPO
• PM vows to unearth plot behind letters; Punjab govt forms its own task force

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: As Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif vowed to solve the mystery of ‘toxic letters’ received by around 17 judges of the superior courts, the Counter-Terrorism Depart­ment of the police seems to be in a bind in its efforts to trace those behind these letters.

Investigators in the capital have traced these letters to the General Post Office in Rawalpindi, but due to the absence of CCTV cameras on the premises, the senders have yet to be identified.

After the letters were opened by the court staff, it was widely believed that the suspicious powder in the envelopes was ‘anthrax’, a harmful substance that causes an infection upon contact with skin.

However, forensic analysis has revealed that the letters sent to LHC judges did not contain anthrax, rather “carbohydrates having arsenic traces”.

Initial investigations have revealed that the arsenic was not in its pure form.

“There were no traces of anthrax or any other toxic chemicals,” sources told Dawn. They added the investigating agencies had also been instructed to trace the fingerprints on the envelopes to catch the attackers.

The Punjab Safe City Authority had also been instructed to trace the senders of the suspicious letters through its surveillance cameras installed across the provincial capital.

At Thursday’s cabinet meeting, PM Shehbaz Sharif vowed to unearth the plot apparently aimed at threatening judges of superior courts through letters carrying a suspicious powder.

“The government is investigating the matter with the sense of responsibility to uncover the reality,” the prime minister said in his speech at the federal cabinet.

Task force formed

In response to the letters received by the Lahore High Court judges, the home department held a meeting in the provincial capital atten­ded by top police and forensic officials. The meeting reviewed the toxic substances found in the envelopes. The meeting did not rule out the role of foreign agencies and decided to expand the canvas of the investigation. According to sources, the CTD constituted a task force headed by the DIG to trace the culprits and their motives behind sending these documents.

With regard to the protection of judges and their staff members, the home department and other line agencies have decided that the judges be provided scanning machines to scan before opening suspicious letters or envelopes. It was also decided that all Lahore High Court judges’ staff members be offered training besides equipping them with gadgets to handle suspicious letters and articles in an informed manner.

GPO Rawalpindi

As the investigation in Islamabad inched forward, the CTD team led by DIG Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari traced the letters sent to the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court to the General Post Office in Rawalpindi.

Sources privy to the investigation told Dawn that following the delivery of these ‘toxic’ letters to the judges of the apex court and the high courts, the investigation team had managed to establish that they were dispatched from the Rawalpindi GPO and the sender mailed all these letters through a post box.

Though the letterbox has been identified, the identity of the sender was still not known.

Sources said that the efforts were being made to trace the sender through CCTV footage and the authorities concerned had been asked to furnish the footage.

Sources said that it was difficult to ascertain who brought these letters to the post office since there were no cameras installed inside the crowded premises. According to sources, the investigation team has asked adjacent offices and buildings to share footage from their respective CCTV cameras.

When contacted, Islamabad Police Spokesperson Taqi Jawad told Dawn that the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) was investigating the case. According to him, DIG Operations Syed Shehzad Nadeem Bukhari was personally supervising the investigation. He expressed hope that the investigation team would trace the senders soon.

Following the incident, the IHC administration took several precautionary measures and the administration has decided to return all letters without a proper sender’s address.

The letters to the top court sent by an unknown group ‘Tehreek-i-Namoos-i-Pakistan’ accused the judiciary of “pretending to do justice” and claimed the struggle for petty politics and vested interests would not be tolerated anymore. The text threatened that the toxic substance in the envelopes was a warning for others to ‘repent’ or face the consequences. The phrase “Welocme [sic] to Bacilus anthracis [sic] !!!” was also written along with a photo of a human skull and bones.

Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2024

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