KARACHI: The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) claim to have arrested seven members of a group, including a former Punjab Police official, allegedly involved in identity theft for the illegal activation of mobile phone SIM cards. At least three members of the group managed to escape, said the CTD team.
Details of the arrests and the group’s modus operandi were revealed in a press conference at the CTD’s Civil Lines office by the department’s in-charge Raja Umar Khattab.
According to Khattab, the arrested accused were identified as Muhammad Rizwan Ahmed, Irfan Ashiq, Kashif Javed, Anjum Zahoor, Muzamil Tabassum, Waqas Ahmed and Muhammad Rehan, while Humair Afzal, Kamran alias Mana and Ghisan are on the run.
The CTD team also seized a large quantity of contraband material from their possession, including six laptops, 12 mobile phone scanners, three biometric machines, 400 forms with an NGO’s insignia, two plain silicon ribbons, 1,700 SIM cards of various cellular service providers, 1,000 fingerprints imprinted on silicon ribbons, three bank scanners, duplicate CNICs of 2,600 persons, tracing paper, one computer scanner and 3,100 jackets of activated SIMs of various networks.
Khattab said that the Government of Pakistan had made biometric identification compulsory for the purchase of SIM cards in 2008, in view of the potential for their abuse. “Anyone could use a SIM card belonging to another person before 2008, which is how criminals and terrorists were able to carry out their activities with impunity,” he said.
The government’s step had resulted in a significant decrease in the rate of serious crimes such as extortion, kidnapping and grey traffic (illegal telephone exchange), among others.
“During our investigation into the Chinese consulate attack, we found that the SIMs used by the terrorists were registered in the names of innocent civilians,” said Khattak, adding that the same was the case with several other terrorism incidents. A CTD official told The Express Tribune that three SIM cards used by the terrorists were registered in the names of innocent civilians who had no connection to the case.
When the CTD started tracing the SIM card’s actual owners and how they came to be in the terrorists’ possession, it soon dawned on them that there was a large network of persons affiliated with cellular service providers and their franchises. “They acquired SIM cards and registered them in the names of unknowing citizens and then sold them for a handsome profit,” said Khattab. He added that the network of these unscrupulous elements was spread across the country.
According to the CTD chief, the department’s Transnational Terrorism Intelligence Group (TTIG) managed to trace some of the members of one such group and arrested them. This particular group used to sell SIM cards in different cities after activating them illegally.
The group’s agents acquired fingerprints and further details from citizens by asking them to fill a form of an NGO, named Pakistan Disabled Development Council. They then scanned the fingerprints onto their computers.
The fingerprints were further cleared using a special software and then transferred onto tracing paper. The group then prepared stamps of the computerised fingerprints and used them to activate SIM cards through the biometric SIM activation device.
The illegally activated SIMs were then sold to criminals at high prices. In this way, the group facilitated heinous crimes including acts of terrorism, murder, kidnaping and gray trafficking, among others. Their actions also made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to apprehend criminals.
Khattab added that the fingerprints and CNIC numbers were also used to open online bank accounts to earn additional income. Besides, franchises of cellular service providers and their agents were given a commission by the group for activating the SIM cards. The CTD chief said that they would contact the Federal Investigation Agency and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for assistance in proceeding with the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2019.