In yet another brazen assault on independent media in Pakistan, the offices of the Express Media Group were attacked by armed terrorists for the second time in less than four months, injuring a security guard at the main entrance of the building.
The attack took place when at least four armed assailants riding motorbikes threw two home-made bombs and resorted to indiscriminate firing at the Express Media Group building at 7pm on Monday evening. Hundreds of employees working for The Express Tribune, Express News channel, Daily Express newspaper and Sindh Express newspaper, were busy preparing to bring the latest news to the country, when loud explosions and ensuing gunshot terrorised the office.
According to eyewitness accounts, the attackers hurled a tennis-ball bomb towards the main entrance of the building from an overhead bridge running perpendicular to the Express Media Group building. The first bomb attack was followed by another within 30 seconds, and was accompanied by a hail of intermittent gunfire, both between and after the two attacks.
Following retaliatory fire by security guards stationed at the entrance, the assailants fled the scene of the attack towards Korangi Road. “They (terrorists) also resorted to indiscriminate firing between and after the two blasts,” said Express Media Group’s injured security guard Faizan Ali, who was on duty at the barrier installed outside the building. “The terrorists escaped towards Korangi Road after we fired back.”
Around a dozen cars of the staff members were damaged in the attack. Windowpanes of vehicles parked outside the offices were shattered by the blast and marks of pellets used in the bombs and bullets were visible on damaged vehicles.
Salman Fazli, who works at the marketing services department of the Express Media Group, survived the attack. “The first blast took place within a second of me crossing the barrier,” Fazli told The Express Tribune. “The bomb exploded close to my car. I had no idea how to respond and my immediate reaction was to stay inside the car and put my head down. Following the bombs, an intense barrage of firing continued. Thankfully, the bombs or the bullets did not hit me or my car directly,” Fazli added.
Following the attack, which lasted for about 15 minutes, a contingent of police reached the scene of the crime almost 10 minutes after the attackers had fled. Initial investigations suggested that the attackers used tennis ball bombs and 9mm pistols.
A first information report was registered against the attack at the Baloch Colony police station.
Meanwhile, experts from the bomb disposal squad, police investigators and forensic experts have collected evidence from the site. Police have also collected at least 15 empty shells of the 9mm pistol from the site and sent them to the Sindh police forensic division.
The attack follows an earlier attempt by terrorists against the Express Media Group on August 16, when unknown gunmen opened fire at the building. Following the first attack, a police van was stationed at the Express Media Group’s building to provide security. However, the police van had suddenly disappeared around two weeks back without intimation.
Later, senior police officials including District South police chief Abdul Khalique Shaikh, SSP Nasir Aftab and several Sindh police officials, including CID SP Chaudhry Aslam Khan, Raja Omer Khattab, Fayyaz Khan and Farooq Awan also reached the site of the attack.
Terming the incident a major attack on the media, senior police officials were unable to ascertain the motive, or the group behind the attack. “The overall circumstances suggest that terrorists had not intended to kill someone but intended to harass management and staff,” DIG Shaikh told The Express Tribune. He added that “their (terrorists) likely aim is to convey a message that no one is safe in Karachi.
The attack is probably linked to the ongoing Karachi operation as media is playing a vital role against criminals and terrorists who want to silence their voice.” He said that he would himself head the investigations into the Express Media Group attacks. “We thoroughly investigated the previous attack at the Express Media Group but were unable to reach any conclusion,” explained Shaikh.
Senior police officials did not rule out the possibility of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) hand in the attack. “In Karachi, the tennis ball bombs are invented by Taliban. Our investigation will focus on the Taliban’s possible involvement. We are hopeful that we will solve this attack and arrest the culprits soon,” said CID SP Chaudhry Aslam Khan.
Reassuring the staff, District South SSP Nasir Aftab said that “proper security will be provided to the Express Media Group.” Law enforcers are planning to install CCTV security cameras along with enhancing security of the building, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2013.