Security officials have detained a former commando of the Pakistan Navy and his brother in connection with last week’s militant attack on the PNS Mehran airbase, intelligence officials and relatives said on Monday.
Intelligence agencies detained Kamran Ahmed Malik and Zaman Malik from Lahore on Friday, five days after the attack in Karachi. Two “visitors” were also picked up from Abdullah Engineering workshop, which the brothers had rented.
Sources said that Kamran was court-martialled 10 years ago for assaulting a senior officer. He was subsequently admitted to the Combined Military Hospital and upon release went on to work as a seller of prize bonds. During his service, Malik had worked at the PNS Mehran and PNS Iqbal naval bases.
After his removal, he remained jobless for a few years and reportedly had developed “psychological problems”.
According to Reuters news agency, an earlier arrest of a suspect in the PNS Mehran attack led to the arrest of the Malik brothers. “The suspect arrested earlier said Ahmed provided information about the base to a militant network, which carried out the attack,” an intelligence official said.
According to a local resident, Kamran was considered a “normal, religious person”.
Aamir Faheem, the owner of the Abdullah Engineering workshop, said that Kamran had rented the shop a month ago. Kamran would sit in the shop for his prize bond business and in the evening he and his brother Zaman’s brother-in-laws would use the shop as a tuition centre.
Faheem said that at 10am on Friday, 10 people riding in three vehicles – including a white Corolla and a blue and black four-wheeler – stormed the workshop. One of the persons of the raiding party was in a police uniform and some were armed.
Faheem said the team shortly emerged from the first floor of the shop with the three men. Later, they also detained Zaman who was present near the workshop, he said.
Family pleads innocence
Kamran’s family claimed that he has had no links with the navy since his court-martial. His father Sadruddin said that accusations were false and a judicial investigation should be conducted.
Kamran’s mother Shamshad Bibi told The Express Tribune that when they contacted their sons’ phones after they were detained, an unidentified person attended the call and informed the family that Kamran had been picked up but did not give further details. Later, both phones were switched off and no official of police or any agency has contacted the family for three days.
Kamran’s uncle Qamaruddin said the agencies had picked up his nephew without fulfilling legal obligations. He went on to declare the incident “extra-judicial”. He demanded the chief justice of Pakistan to immediately intervene.
Air force guards were told to stay ‘on their side’
Although Pakistan Rangers personnel were allowed to enter the area under the jurisdiction of PNS Mehran airbase on the night it was attacked, gunmen from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were not.
“Our Rapid Action Force had responded within minutes and navy Special Services Group commandos also arrived immediately. We did not want any confusion or injuries caused by friendly fire in the middle of the commando operation,” a senior navy official told reporters on Monday at a special briefing on the incident.
PAF gunmen were restricted to the runway’s other side, which falls under the jurisdiction of the PAF Faisal Base.
Although navy officials insisted that responsibility will only be fixed once investigators complete their report, their presentation repeatedly mentioned that at 10:15pm, the four terrorists scaled the perimeter fence on the PAF’s side, walked down 800 metres and circumvented the common runway strip used by aviation wings of all forces.
Junior navy guards spotted the attackers but by the time the response force was alerted, terrorists had attacked the P-3C Orion with at least seven RPG rockets.
Another navy official, who gave a tour of PNS Mehran, said that during the attack there were around 200 navy personnel present. About 30 to 40 of them were armed.
Two more check posts, manned by two gunmen each, have been set up near the runway.
Even after a week of the assault, carcasses of the Pakistan Navy’s prized assets and targets of the attack – the American-manufactured P-3C Orion – stood scattered on the tarmac near the runway.
Reporters were told about the unsung heroes of the night of May 22, the ‘Tiger group’ of fire-fighters, who attempted to save the aircraft. Three of them died in the attack.
Four aircraft were parked on the tarmac when rockets were fired, destroying two planes. The other two planes were towed to safety.
Navy officials suspect that foreigners present at the airbase were also on the terrorists’ hit list. The attackers split into pairs after blowing up the aircraft. One pair hid in the bushes near the tarmac while the other headed towards the building of the 27 Squadron Fokker Line where they remained holed up until they were killed.
Bullet holes and damage caused to the building by RPG rockets were still visible. The Chinese were staying in a building next to the 27 Squadron’s, where an attacker also blew himself up. A senior navy official confirmed that some Chinese engineers, who were being evacuated in a bulletproof Land Cruiser, had had a very narrow escape. “One of the attackers stood right in front of the vehicle and fired a volley of machine gunfire head on. Our navy driver kept his nerve and tried to ram into him but the attacker kept firing at point blank range and dived just seconds before the vehicle got close enough,” he said. The Americans were housed at a distance and remained safe.
Officials did not say if any suspects were arrested or whether any terrorist had managed to escape. However, privately they admitted that the attack couldn’t have taken place unless someone within the navy had given precise information.
ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2011.