Interpol nets key suspect in deadly Baldia factory fire

Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola, arrested from Bangkok’s red light district


Zubair Ashraf December 04, 2016
Thai police officials detain Abdul Rehman at the Lumpini police station. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Interpol and Thailand police have arrested Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola, who is suspected of starting a devastating factory fire in Karachi four years ago that killed dozens of workers. A former sector in-charge of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Rehman had reportedly jumped ship earlier this year to join the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP).

Abdul Rehman, 46, was detained at a hotel in the red light district of Nana in Bangkok on Friday evening, said Thailand’s Interpol chief. “Thai Interpol tracked this suspect following an arrest warrant sought by the Pakistani authorities,” Major General Apichart Suriboonya told AFP. “He will be repatriated as soon as Pakistan is ready,” he added.

Main suspect behind Baldia factory fire arrested in Bangkok

Some 260 workers were burnt to death when a fire swept through the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi’s Baldia Town on September 11, 2012. Initially, the fire was believed to be an accident, but the case took a dramatic turn on February 7, 2015 when the report of a joint investigation team (JIT) claimed that the MQM was behind the deadly conflagration.

Quoting MQM worker Rizwan Qureshi, also a suspect in the case, the JIT said that a ‘well-known party senior official’ had asked the factory owner for Rs200 million in extortion though his frontman in August 2012 and when the owner refused, his factory was burnt down.

The report, submitted to the Sindh High Court in February 2015, said Qureshi on June 22, 2013 had also spoken about the alleged role of two other suspects – Abdul Rehman and Hammad Siddiqui – in the fire. Fearing their arrest, Rehman and Siddiqui had fled to Dubai in December 2013.

Rehman’s wife and police confirmed that after fleeing the country, the two suspects had stayed together for a year. However, when the report containing their names as ‘extortionist who set the Ali Enterprises garment factory on fire over non-payment of money’ surfaced, they parted ways.

“Rehman moved to Malaysia where he lived until recently,” his wife, Samina Bano, told The Express Tribune by phone. “I don’t know where he [Siddiqui] went. My husband never talked about him.”

She said that around a month ago her husband moved to Thailand ‘in search of work’. “We [the family] were in contact with him through the internet. On Friday, we heard the news that he was arrested. We called the hotel he was staying in and they confirmed the arrest.”

Baldia factory fire case: JIT member summoned again by ATC

Though Rehman and Siddiqui were not formally wanted in the case at the time they went abroad but a source said they had come to know about the incriminating statement of Qureshi, which actually became the basis for their implication.

Karachi police chief AIG Mushtaq Mehr told The Express Tribune that Rehman would extradited in a couple of days. “A team will leave for Thailand after completing necessary legal formalities,” he said.

Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said those involved in the deadly fire would not be spared and would be smoked out from wherever they were hiding. “The Baldia factory fire was one of the worst incidents that have ever taken place in the city in which innocent male and female labourers were burnt alive,” he said in a statement.

PSP denies Rehman is a member

According to his wife, Abdul Rehman had joined the PSP. “He joined the party from outside the country after its formation in March,” Bano said. However, the PSP denied Rehman was its worker.

PSP Chairman Mustafa Kamal told media in Lahore that his party had nothing to do with the person arrested in Bangkok. The party also dismissed a membership form containing his picture, name and other details as fake. (With additional input from AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2016.

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