They took a pink colour bus daily to ferry them from alAzhar Gardens, a residential society of the peaceful Ismaili community in the Sachal neighbourhood of the metropolis, to their workplaces or markets – and back home. For the community members, this daily commute has been a routine for nearly a decade. Little did they know that Wednesday’s commute would be one-way for most of them.
Fifty-one commuters — men, women and children — boarded the pink bus past 9am. And 10 minutes later, 43 of them lay dead in a pool of blood, their bus riddled with bullets and seats drenched in blood which dripped out of the doors on to the asphalted road.
Four gunmen, disguised as law enforcers, flagged down the bus at an unfrequented stretch of University Road Link. “Three gunmen climbed on to the bus and two of them opened fire after the third shouted, ‘Kill everyone’,” a wounded woman told The Express Tribune from her bed at the Memon Hospital. “The killing spree continued for over four minutes.”
The police said the attackers were well-trained. They ordered the commuters to bow their heads before shooting them one by one — mostly in the head. “They were so trained that hardly any bullet misfired and not a single window of the bus was hit. They shot the commuters at point-blank range,” said DSP Qamar Ahmed, who was later suspended for negligence.
“According to the initial information which we have received from hospitals, 43 people have been killed and 13 wounded,” IGP Sindh Ghulam Haider Jamali told reporters at the crime scene. One of the injured later died at a hospital.
“The terrorists came on three motorcycles, they entered the bus and began firing indiscriminately,” he added.
Eyewitnesses said the attackers shouted slogans before fleeing the scene unchallenged and unidentified. “After the grisly killings, they fired gunshots into the air and shouted ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ before driving off on motorcycles,” said Ayub, a labourer at a nearby under-construction building. “Minutes later, I saw a woman running as she bled.”
Uzma Alkarim, a member of the Ismaili community, said the bus took commuters to work every day. The Ismailis had faced threats before, she said. “Around six months ago, our community elders had alerted us to be careful because of security threats but things had calmed down recently,” she said.
University Road Link, which lies in a sparsely populated area, connects Safoora Chowrangi to Superhighway. It is a road less travelled as commuters prefer to avoid it for fear of getting mugged. The pink bus driver had special instructions not to slow down in the area under any circumstances.
A chaos followed the macabre violence. First rescuers arrived, then the law enforcers and then politicians looking to score a photo-op session. It was pointless, however. The bus had already been driven to the nearby Memon Hospital, where crying relatives formed a human chain outside the main building to keep onlookers away. A sobbing middle-aged man said: “I have come to collect the body of my young son. He was a student preparing for his first year exams at college.”
One female survivor who asked to remain anonymous described the attackers as being clean-shaven and dressed in Western attire, according to a male nurse who spoke to her. “One attacker mentioned there were two kids on board and the other told them to let them live,” she told the nurse.
Some of the casualties were later shifted to the Aga Khan Hospital, where medics said they received 24 bodies and six injured. The hospital was heavily guarded by army and police officers. They cordoned off the wards where the injured were lodged and did not let anyone except families in.
According to forensics experts, the attackers used multiple types of weapons. “Apparently, more than two weapons, including 9mm pistols and sub machineguns, were used but most of the empty bullet casings found at the site are of 9mm pistols,” forensics expert Tariq Jadoon told The Express Tribune.
A three-room vacant house is located near the crime scene and the law enforcers found a uniform cap of a private security company. “Possibly the attackers stayed in the house before committing the mass murder,” said SHO Sohail Awan who was also suspended later.
After the attack, the paramilitary Rangers conducted a search operation in Sohrab Goth and Safoora Goth areas and rounded up over a dozen suspects who were subsequently shifted to an undisclosed location for questioning.
IGP Jamali convened an emergency meeting at his office to review the situation. Various possible angles of the incident were discussed and IGP Jamali directed that the intelligence apparatus be upgraded and raids conducted to arrest the culprits. He also ordered that security at all public places, including mosques, imambargahs, jamaatkhanas, shrines, shopping centres and bus terminals be enhanced.
IGP Jamali constituted a high-powered committee to investigate the tragic incident. AIG Ghulam Qadir Thebo will head the committee that also comprises DIG Munir Shaikh, DIG Feroz Shah, DIG Arif Hanif, DIG Sultan Khawaja, SSP Pir Muhammad Shah and SSP Dr Najee.
The ultra-extremist Middle Eastern terrorist group, the Islamic State, and its affiliate Jundullah claimed responsibility for the attack. However, officials believe it’s a deliberate attempt to sabotage the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project as it happened when the country’s top political leadership was in a session in the federal capital to iron out differences over the project.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he was saddened by the attack. “This is a very patriotic and peaceful people who have always worked for the wellbeing of Pakistan,” he said. “This is an attempt to spread divisions in the country.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2015.