KARACHI: He was responsible for the security of President Asif Ali Zardari. He survived three attempts on his life in the past. However, he wasn’t lucky enough on Wednesday. Bilal Shaikh, the chief security officer of President Zardari and former security in-charge for Bilawal House, was killed in a suspected suicide attack at the busiest thoroughfare of Karachi. Shaikh’s driver-cum-police guard was also killed in the attack that took place in the Guru Mandir neighbourhood of the metropolis.
Shaikh was travelling in his bullet-proof SUV to his home in Khamosh Colony from the upscale Defence neighbourhood. The blast took place when his SUV pulled over at a roadside shop near Guru Mandir to buy some fruits, according to his security guard.
“Bilal Sahib asked us to pull over at the fruit shop,” Mairaj Ali Zaidi told The Express Tribune. “Bilal Sahib opened the door of SUV but did not get down. He was talking to the fruit vendor when a powerful blast went off,” added another guard Alamdar, who also sustained injuries in the blast.
Shaikh and his driver-cum-police guard, Irfan Zaidi, were killed and a dozen others were wounded. Rescuers shifted the casualties to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and Civil Hospital.
The blast partially damaged the fruit shop and shattered the windows of nearby buildings. “There was no stranger in the shop at the time of the blast,” said the fruit vendor, Abdul Aziz. “We are also trying to figure out how the blast happened.”
Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officials didn’t find anything which could suggest it was a planted device. “The bomb weighed five to six kilogrammes,” one BDS official told The Express Tribune. “Ball-bearings were also used to inflict maximum casualties.”
“Apparently it was a suicide attack. The bomber might have walked up to Shaikh and detonated the explosives he was carrying,” the official said. “We have collected the head and severed limbs of the suspected bomber from the site and sent them to laboratory for DNA test.”
The city police chief also believes it was a suicide attack. “The evidence suggests it was a suicide attack,” AIG Ghulam Qadir Thebu told The Express Tribune at the blast site. “We have found a severed head which is possibly of the bomber.”
Thebu added that he has constituted a committee to probe the attack. DIG East Captain (retd) Tahir Naveed would head the committee.
Bilal Shaikh had survived three attacks in the past, at City Courts, Five Star’s Chowrangi and Khamosh Colony. Lyari gangsters, including Shahid Bikkik and Ahsan Mohajir, were blamed for the last attack in May 2011. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Investigators are clueless about the possible perpetrators. “Usually, the Taliban use suicide bombers to attack their targets. However, we cannot say anything about the possible perpetrators of this attack or its motives since our investigation is ongoing,” CID SSP Chaudhry Aslam Khan told The Express Tribune.
Since the assassination of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, Shaikh is the fourth prominent security officer of the PPP to have been killed. Earlier Khalid Shahenshah, the chief security officer for Bilawal House, was gunned down outside his residence in Clifton in 2008. Three years later Shahenshah’s close aide Imran, aka Imran Jangi, was shot dead outside his residence in the Azizabad neighbourhood of the city. Lastly, a personal security officer of President Zardari, Abdul Rehman Baloch, was gunned down inside the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre by the guard of ANP leader Ramzan Kakar in December 2012.
PPP Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemned the deadly attack on Bilal Sheikh and said the anti-democratic and extremist mindset was behind such barbaric act of terrorism, which needs to be stopped with firmness and unity. “We will not be intimidated by such cowardly acts and such acts will not deter our resolve to fight terrorism,” he said in a statement.
Bilawal paid rich tributes to Bilal Shaikh for his struggle in the restoration of democracy. He sympathised with the bereaved families and prayed to Allah Almighty to bless the departed souls with eternal peace. PPP leader Syed Owais Muzaffar said PPP leaders were being targeted because the party has been waging war against terrorism.
He said the PPP would continue the mission of its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto against undemocratic forces. “Our leaders have sacrificed their lives for this cause and we will continue their mission,” he added. “It is high time all political forces joined hands against terrorist elements who have been attacking our schools, mosques, temples and churches.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2013.