October 18 anniversary: As investigations come to a halt, victims wonder what the truth is

180 people were killed on the day, four years ago, when Benazir Bhutto finally came home.


Salman Siddiqui October 17, 2011

KARACHI:


Four years have passed since October 18, 2007, and the truth about the massive bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto’s caravan on Karsaz road that killed at least 180 people, remains as hidden and rusty as the armoured truck that saved her life that day.


Wrapped in a marquee at the Aziz Bhatti police station, the dust-covered carcass of the huge machine with deflated tyres also reflects the state of the investigations made into the case since then. Both haven’t moved an inch forward.

Aziz Bhatti SHO Ihsanullah says he has no clue what the truck is doing with him. “I was posted here just a month ago,” he told The Express Tribune. “All I know is that even though around four SHOs have come and gone, this truck has stayed here since the Oct 18, 2007 attack.”

Slain Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto mentioned in her last book ‘Reconciliation’ that the truck was specially commissioned after the Musharraf regime refused to import special bulletproof vehicles for her safety.

“What my husband did manage to construct to protect [me] was a raised armour-plated flatbed truck where I would be four metres off the ground… the interior was also insulated in a way that was meant to ensure that it could survive even a direct bomb attack,” she wrote.

By Sunday PPP flags were raised on poles at the ill-fated Karsaz bridge where the attack took place. Preparations were under way for an expected anniversary ceremony to commemorate the dead. But none of the die-hard workers at the spot and even some PPP leaders had any clue of the location of the historic truck that gave their leader a new lease on life - even if it was for just another nine weeks.

Investigations

Investigators today negate everything from the way the attack was carried out to the possible culprits involved that Benazir herself mentioned in her book. For example, the slain chairperson wrote that the bomb maker was “Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the UAE and was languishing in Karachi Central Jail. According to my source, officials in Lahore had turned to Qari Saifullah Akhtar for help.”

Special Investigation Unit SSP Raja Umer Khattab said, indeed, Akhtar was brought to Karachi and thoroughly interrogated by a joint investigation team about the attack. “However, he was cleared and was not found to be involved in the incident,” he said.

Other prisoners like Akhtar were also questioned about the Karsaz attack, but they were also not found to be involved, investigators added.

Bhutto also mentioned that a man had tried to send a baby up the ill-fated truck minutes before the blast. They had suspected that the baby’s clothes were lined with plastic explosives, which blew up when the man scuffled with policemen near a security van. Also, she said that 50 seconds later, a “15kg car bomb” was detonated.

However, the then SSP East Niaz Khosa, who today awaits posting, told The Express Tribune that, “Initially even we thought the same [thing]. But subsequent investigations proved that the twin explosions were caused by two suicide bombers.” In fact, Khosa went on to say that the baby and the man were also traced, and are alive since both survived the blast.  Bhutto mentioned that four suicide squads - one prepared by the then Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Amir Baitullah Mehsud, another by Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, another by Lal Masjid militants, and a Karachi-based militant group (presumably Jundallah) - were ready to strike her on Karsaz on October 18, 2007.

But according to SSP Khattab, “the mastermind of the Karsaz blast was the same as the one who was involved in the attack on Benazir on December 27, 2007, in Rawalpindi that eventually killed her.” For his part, Crime Investigation Department’s Counter Terrorism Unit SSP Chaudhry Aslam Khan argued that in his mind, there was no doubt that this was the work of Baitullah Mehsud.

Another senior investigator says the main accused in the case is a handler of suicide bombers named Wahab Mehsud. He supposedly gave shelter to the two suicide bombers involved in the attack in Karachi’s Kunwari colony. Even though Wahab’s brother was nabbed, the culprit himself remains a fugitive and investigators guess he may have escaped to Waziristan.

Victims

Around 180 people died that day. Two brothers, 40-year-old Sajjid and 37-year-old Tariq, were among them.

A relative Mohsin Maqbool, who lives in Gulshan, recalled how it all happened. “They were not affiliated with any political party. They just went out to catch a glimpse of Benazir when they heard on TV that she was about to pass by near their home,” he said. They never returned. “The emotional toll on the victim’s wives has been tremendous. Sajjid’s widow Uzma remains disturbed to this day and says she doesn’t want to remarry because she’s too scared the same tragedy might repeat in her life.” Tariq’s widow is supporting her two children by teaching.

“So much has been said about the Karsaz tragedy already,” says Mohsin. “But what we, the victims’ families, really want is to know what really is the truth? Somebody …somebody out there owes us an explanation.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.

COMMENTS (8)

Salim Mirza | 9 years ago | Reply

Does any one remebers the Hell that broke loose in Sindh including Karachi for three days on 27th December 2007 after the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Independent from London | 9 years ago | Reply Dr Zulfiqar Mirza is due to address a rally tomorrow. He is likely to speak about the sequence of events on the night when bombs exploded. As long as Rehman Malik is in office there will be no investigation regarding this incident. MDon't forget that Mustafa Kamal was in his heydays as a Nazim of the city of Karachi. Right when the motorcade procession arrived at the spot the street lights were switched off and within minutes the bomb exploded. The city government has to answer this question that why the street lights were switched off at those crucial moments?
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