The 2012 Baldia factory fire was a planned terror activity involving some key members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over non-payment of extortion, the court hearing the matter was formally told on Saturday.
As many as 260 workers were burnt to death while around 100 were wounded in the blaze that gutted Ali Enterprises garment factory located in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012.
The fresh investigation report by a joint interrogation team (JIT) constituted last March says the incident was an act of arson and the miscreants used some highly inflammable chemicals to torch the factory.
Hammad Siddiqui, a former local leader of the MQM, is the main culprit behind the episode, says the report. Being the Karachi Tanzimi Committee (KTC) in-charge, Siddiqui looked into the operations of the 26 sectors of the party in the city. He is alleged to have directed the whole unfortunate episode to wreak vengeance on factory owners for their refusal to pay Rs250 million as protection money and awarding him partnership in the company's profits.
Siddiqui, through his front man, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, the then Baldia Town sector in-charge, approached the factory owners, Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons, Shahid Bhaila and Arshad Bhaila, states the report. The Bhailas, however, showed reluctance over paying the huge sum and instead offered Rs10 million, which the alleged extortionists did not accept.
The infuriated KTC chief then ordered Rehman to set the factory on fire 'in order to teach the owners a lesson', maintains the report. "At around 1830 [hours] (6:30pm) on the day of incident, Zubair alias Charya, an employee of the factory having affiliations with the party, along with his four accomplices, threw some chemicals in the warehouse located in the basement and fled away."
After the incident, an MQM minister using his influence got the factory owners and some employees booked in the FIR for their alleged negligence in ensuring the safety measures at the workplace and later blackmailed them, the investigators state in the report.
The Bhailas contacted other businessmen in their circles seeking to strike a deal with the party to get some respite. Then emerged the Qadri brothers: Muhammad Ali and Umar. Ali told the Bhailas that his brother had close ties with the then MQM deputy convener, Anis Kaimkhani, the report asserts. Ali forwarded a proposal before the owners that the MQM had agreed to tone down the matter if they pay Rs59.8 million. "The amount was deposited in an HBL Hyderabad bank account," says the report.
"The owners were told that the money will be distributed among the victims from the MQM's platform: Rs0.25 million to the heirs of the dead and Rs0.1 million to the injured." Nothing of the sort actually happened.
It later emerged that the money was used in the purchase of a real estate in Latifabad, Hyderabad, in the name of a woman, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum. Since the property cost Rs63.5 million, the remaining amount was paid through a bank account held by one Dr Abdul Sattar, who is said to be a close lieutenant of Kaimkhani.
The new investigating officer of the case, SP Sajid Sadozai, told the additional district and sessions judge, Maqbool Memon, that the report was with the home department for approval of lodging a new case under the anti-terrorism law against the proposed suspects, Siddiqi, Rehman, Zubair, Umar, Ali, Sattar, Khanum and four unidentified persons. Despite Kaimkhani's alleged role, he has not been named as a proposed suspect.
The IO told the court that the new investigation report suggests withdrawing former ones and taking up the case in light of witnesses' statements recorded by the JIT.
The judge, accepting the report, directed Sadozai to produce the complete report with a reply from the authorities by March 22.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2016.