KARACHI, May 2: The city descended into fear and panic as violence erupted across the metropolis shortly after the killing of a senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) member on Monday that left four more people dead, nearly a dozen others wounded, around 25 vehicles torched and a private bank branch partially damaged, police and witnesses said.
The sudden and intense assaults, which were first reported in the east zone of the police organisational structure, gradually engulfed all major neighbourhoods, including residential and commercial areas, amid frequent incidents of firing and arson.
The violence sparked in the afternoon after armed men riding a motorbike intercepted the car of 48-year-old Farooq Baig, an organising committee member of the MQM Karachi and a former sector in charge of Landhi, and shot him dead. He was heading to the party's headquarters Nine Zero after leaving his home in Landhi No 6 when he was targeted.
“Mr Baig was driving the car bearing registration number GL-6367, which was intercepted near a stop called Bagh-i-Korangi by pillion riders,” said SP Landhi Nasir Aftab. “One of the riders fired multiple shots at him before running away with his accomplice. He was seriously wounded and was rushed to a private hospital on Stadium Road where he died during treatment.”
Known and respected as the senior MQM member, Mr Baig was employed at the Landhi Town administration. He was father of three sons and associated with the MQM for almost three decades. His murder left many residents shocked and also caused fear in the densely-populated locality.
The incident came at a time when senior leaders of the MQM were meeting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad following his repeated offers to rejoin the federal cabinet. Before they could reach an agreement, the targeted killing sparked anger among MQM leaders and workers.
Shortly after Mr Baig's killing, armed men riding a motorbike in the same area intercepted a truck (RIH-7793) loaded with construction material and gunned down its driver and his helper.
“The victims were identified as the 40-year-old driver, Mohammad Mir Hazara, and 35-year-old cleaner, Abdul Razzaq. Both were also paternal cousins,” said an official at the Awami Colony police station. The killings were carried out near Korangi Dar-ul-Uloom.
Amid intense firing, an unidentified youngster was found shot dead near Kamal Petrol Pump in Pak Colony. The body was shifted to the Civil Hospital Karachi, the area police said.
Same was the fate of a young man who was targeted by armed men riding a motorbike on Tariq Road. “The incident was witnessed near Edhi Centre on main Tariq Road. The victim was in his mid 20s and seemed to be a labourer by clothes and features. The body has been shifted to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre for want of identification,” SSP Amir Farooqi of Jamshed Town.
Figures gathered from the medico-legal sections of three major public hospitals — JPMC, Civil Hospital and the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital — indicated that at least 13 people were brought wounded to the hospitals. A couple of the victims were in their teens.
Nevertheless rampant firing was followed by arson attacks in different areas that paralysed city life. The intense firing and arson attacks on vehicles left hundreds of thousands of people stranded in traffic jams on roads.
The worst traffic jams were witnessed on Sharea Faisal, M.A. Jinnah Road, Shahrah-i-Pakistan and other major arteries linking the city's commercial centre to residential localities.
Capital City Police Officer Saud Mirza confirmed to Dawn that some 25 vehicles were set on fire in different arson attacks though he claimed that police's timely intervention proved effective and the law-enforcers managed to arrest more than 100 suspects 'red-handed while they were engaged in arson and firing activities.'
“We took several initiatives and managed to arrest some 103 suspects with arms and arson materials found in their possession,” the CCPO said.
He said he saw 'ethnic colour in the targeted attacks mainly on the buses and trucks'. “We are hopeful about making more arrests as the arsonists targeted mostly minibuses and trucks owned by people from a particular ethnic background,” he said.
The police chief also said that the entire event seemed planned to trigger ethnic-based violence.
The facts gathered through the central fire station and police stations showed that three buses and a hi-roof van were torched in Landhi Town. A taxi was seen in flames near Malir 15. A minibus of route Z-18 was set on fire in Pak Colony. A private bus was set ablaze on University Road near Al-Mustafa Centre. Similarly, arsonists attacked a trailer near Al-Karam Square in Liaquatabad and a water tanker near Firdous Cinema in the same area.In Gizri area, armed men set fire to five vehicles — two cars, two buses and a minibus — within half-an-hour. In Nazimabad, a minibus of route N-4 was set ablaze near the Shamim Shaheed police post. A passenger coach was torched in Bilal Colony of New Karachi Town.
Three mini-trucks, one each in Gulshan-i-Shamim of Azizabad, at Water Pump and near Sindhi Hotel in Liaquatabad, were set on fire.
Most arson attacks were reported before the sunset, while scattered attempts were also made in the dark.
After the sunset, two more trucks were set on fire in Liaquatabad while a carpet showroom was seen in blazes in the Buffer Zone area.
A car was also set on fire on Mubarak Saeed Road in Jamshed Town in the late hours.
“A total of 44 fire tenders were used in firefighting,” said Chief Fire Officer Ehtashamuddin. “All the 20 stations in the city remained engaged in today's operation as the incidents were reported in almost every district of the city. In most areas, we enjoyed police escort for the security purpose.”
He said a private bank branch near Lasbela was also targeted by arsonists but with the timely intervention by the area police the flames were prevented from engulfing the structure that helped firefighters to divert resources to other affected areas.