KARACHI: The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Capital City Police has busted a key sectarian network, the Mehdi force, which operated under the umbrella of the banned organisation Sipah-e-Mohammad.
Chief of police Fayyaz Leghari called it a ‘major success’ at a press conference held at the Old CIA Centre in Saddar on Sunday.
SIU SSP Raja Umer Khattab said his team has nabbed eight hardcore militants of the network, including its mastermind Tanveer Abbas, along with a huge cache of weapons.
Tanvir Abbas alias Kashif alias Mehdi along with Abrar Hussain, Pervez Zaidi, Riffat alias Jehangir and Hasnain Abbas were arrested in the first encounter near NED University with a vehicle with fake official numberplates (GS-0022) early Sunday morning. Later, Sikandar alias Sajid, Ali Mehdi alias Bubblo and Kumail were arrested during separate raids. All eight suspects hail from the city and most of them were residents of Orangi town, Buffer zone, Malir and New Karachi.
They have been accused of being involved in at least a dozen sectarian target killings, including the murder of three doctors. The group targeted sympathisers and members of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad, because of which a strong backlash would occur and the attacked groups would retaliate against the Shia community more violently.
Describing the modus operandi of the Mehdi force, Khattab told The Express Tribune that it was a well-trained extremist unit that had various sources of funding.
“The mastermind Tanvir Abbas used to pay Rs15,000 as a salary to his men who would pull the trigger and Rs8,000 to those who conducted surveillance of the targets,” he said, adding that the suspect would also organise weapons and explosives training to the men at facilities in hideouts in the northern areas, including Parachinar and Gilgit.
The group was also alleged to be involved in numerous car snatchings and robberies.
According to the police, Tanvir Abbas had on the directives of another cell chief Ashraf set up the group in April 2009 and a total of Rs7 million had been spent on training and equipment.
Leghari took a cautious approach when asked whether another country could be involved in the group’s funding, saying that they were “still investigating that angle”. Sources within the SIU said, however, that leads were pointing towards groups operating in Iran.
Also, a clear link between the Mehdi force and Majlise Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a local religious organisation has also been uncovered.
The MWM’s Karachi leadership is being led by Hasan Zafar and Punjab chapter by Raja Nasir. Both are under police surveillance.
The nabbed militants, Tanvir Abbas, Abrar Hussain, Pervez Zaidi, Riffat alias Jehangir, Hasnain Abbas, Sikander alias Sajid, Ali Mehdi alias Bubblo and Kumail had previously managed to escape when the police engaged them near Moti Mahal in Gulshan-e-Iqbal on December 18. However, this time with the support of an intelligence agency’s wiretapping facilities, they were caught.
Khattab said that another cell of the same network led by a person with the codename Ashraf remains at large and efforts were being made to bust his cell that includes Shafaat Hussain, Mohsin, Farhat, Danish and Zeeshan Ali Abbas. Arrests on December 2 led to clues. “Ashraf was in contact with two groups and often he visited Federal B area to provide them money,” the SP said. “Usually, they keep a Suzuki pick-up as backup for the motorcyclist target killers.”
The CCPO said a target list containing the names of 15 prominent religious leaders was also in their custody, but he declined to give names, citing security reasons.
The Mehdi force members have been charged with the murders of Dr Babar Mannaan (killed within Mominabad police station limits), Dr Javed Shakoor (Nazimabad), Dr Khursheed (Orangi), Mohammad Nisar (Godhra camp), Maawia, a son of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan central leader Maulana Ghafoor Nadeem (Taimuria), Mukhtar Ali (Khuwaja Ajmer Nagri), Naeem Ahmed (Mominabad), Ashraf Haroon (Orangi), Mushtaq Ahmed (Baloch Colony), Qari Iqbal (Surjani), Mohammad Imran (Shahrae Noor Jehan) and Mudassir Alam (Sir Syed).
The arms recovered from the suspects, included AK-47s, hand grenades, 9mm rifles and TT pistols, apart from large rounds of ammunition. CCPO Leghari has recommended promotions for the SIU staff.
Meanwhile, the families of the arrested men and the community leaders and clerics condemned the arrests and said that the media had already been informed that they had gone missing.
The families had held a separate press conference at the Karachi Press Club last week and had alleged that since the start of Muharram as many as 10 Shias had gone missing after raids by the law-enforcement agencies.
Following Sunday’s disclosure of the arrests at the press conference, the families condemned the police’s performance and said that everyone knew who was right as the media had already been informed about the “missing” men. However, SIU SSP Raja Umer Khattab told The Express Tribune that the families of the suspects as well as some clerics, including Maulana Hassan Zafar Naqvi, were trying to give the impression that the men were innocent and had therefore already held press conferences.
“Actually, some of them, including Tanvir Abbas, managed to escape during an encounter near Moti Mahal in Gulshan-e-Iqbal on December 18,” he said. “Later, in a bid to avoid arrests, they took their clerics into confidence and started holding press conferences to try and put pressure on the police to stop the raids.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2011.