By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
In the morning of September 2, 2017, two terrorists carried out an attack targeting Muttahida Qaumi Movement–Pakistan (MQM-P) leader, Khwaja Izharul Hassan, killing two persons, including one of his guards and a child in the vicinity, and injuring another two in the Buffer Zone area of Karachi (Karachi District), the provincial capital of Sindh. Khwaja Hassan, who is also the leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly, survived the assassination attempt unhurt. According to details the assailants clad in Police uniforms and riding on a motorcycle opened fire on Hassan when he was leaving a mosque after offering Eid-ul-Adha [Islamic festival of sacrifice] prayers. Ansar-ul-Shariah Pakistan (ASP) in a Tweet on September 3 claiming responsibility for the attack, alleged that Khawaja Hassan was a “pro-American MQM leader”.
Meanwhile, Police and Pakistan Rangers Sindh raided various houses in the Kaneez Fatima Society of the Gulzar-i-Hijri area of Malir Town, Karachi, on September 4, following information about the presence of the attackers involved in the assassination attempt. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire between the terrorists and Security Force (SF) personnel, one Policeman and a terrorist, identified as Hassan Israr, were killed. The other terrorist, Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, present at the encounter site, managed to escape. The slain Hassan Israr worked as a lab technician in the Dawood University of Engineering and Technology (DUET) in Karachi. He belonged to an educated family and his father, Ahsan Israr, is a lecturer at an educational institute. According to Rao Anwar, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Malir Town (Karachi District), the fleeing terrorist, Siddiqui, was the mastermind of attack: “He is central commander of banned militant organisation Ansar-ul-Shariah and close associate of killed terrorist, Hassan.” Siddique was a student of Applied Physics at the University of Karachi in 2011.
On September 4, 2017, Police took Sarosh Siddiqui’s father, Sajjad Siddiqui, a retired professor of the University of Karachi, into their custody. On Sajjad’s revelations, Police also arrested ASP Karachi chapter’s ‘spokesperson’ and another dozen ASP cadres during various raids in Gulzar-e-Hijri, Defence Housing Authority, Super Highway, and Sachal areas of Karachi, on the same day.
Further, on September 5, SFs arrested ASP ‘chief’, Dr. Abdullah Hashmi aka Shehryar (28), in an intelligence-based operation conducted at Kaniz Fatima Society in the Gulzar-i-Hijri area of Malir Town in Karachi. Dr, Hashmi is an information technology (IT) expert and was employed in the Computer Department of the Nadirshaw Eduljee Dinshaw University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET), Karachi. He received a Master’s degree in Applied Physics from the University of Karachi.
During the interrogation Dr. Hashmi told investigators ASP had been formed in 2015 and made several attempts to link up with global terror outfit al Qaeda after establishing contacts with one of its operatives in Karachi, Abdullah Baloch, on an unspecified date. However, the group was advised to generate funds and operate by themselves.
Dr. Hashmi also disclosed that he had been residing in Karachi till 2012 but left for Afghanistan following a raid at his residence. He admitted receiving weapons training in the Shorawak area of Helmand Province, Afghanistan and that his group comprised of 10 to 12 people, mostly students from University of Karachi, DUET, and NEDUET. He confessed his group was targeting Police personnel to ‘receive recognition’ and prove its mettle. Commenting on the slain assailant who attacked MQM-P leader Khwaja Hassan, Shehryar stated that Hassan had also been trained in Afghanistan.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) ASP has been found involved in at least five terror attacks, resulting in nine deaths (seven SF personnel and two civilians) and three persons injured (two civilians and one SF) since its formation 2015. SFs have neutralized 10 ASP terrorists. The name of this outfit first emerged publicly on April 5, 2017, when it claimed responsibility for the targeted killing of Army Colonel (Retd) Tahir Zia Nagi at the Baloch Colony, Karachi.
The involvement of young educated youths from the mainstream-education system in terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Karachi and is not limited to ASP. There have been several such instances in the past. Saad Aziz, affiliated to Islamic State (IS), who was involved in the Safoora Goth bus massacre in Karachi, was a student of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi. Aziz was arrested on May 20, 2015, from the SITE area of Karachi and was tried by a military court; he is now on death row for his involvement in Bus massacre on May 13, 2015, in which 47 Ismaili Shias were killed and another 13 were injured. He was also convicted on the charge of murder of the prominent Pakistani women’s rights activist Sabeen Mahmud on April 24, 2015. Two others who were arrested along with Aziz on May 20, 2015, were Mohammad Azfar Ishrat aka Maajid and Haafiz Nasir aka Yasir. Ishrat is an engineer who had passed out from the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology and had expertise in bomb-making. He was involved in terrorist activities since 2011. Haafiz Nasir, who completed Master of Arts (MA) in Islamic Studies from University of Karachi, had been involved in terrorist activities since 2013.
Similarly, Noreen Leghari (19), a second-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) student of Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) in Jamshoro District of Sindh, was implicated for her ties with the IS. Leghari was arrested on April 14, 2017, during a raid on an IS hideout in the Punjab Housing Society in the Factory Area of Lahore, in which one militant, Ali Tariq (32), was killed while four soldiers, including two officers, were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. The IS terrorists were planning an attack on the Christian religious festival of Easter on April 16. Leghari claimed on May 8, 2017, that she was being held captive by Ali Tariq to be used as suicide bomber. During a confessional interview on Channel 92 News, she said,
When I was told that I was to be used as a suicide bomber, I objected and told them I was only interested in migration [to Syria]. But I was told … You must do it. Just chant ‘Allah o Akbar’ (God is Great) and explode your suicide vest. When the army raided our house, I was rescued.
Noreen Leghari is the daughter of Dr. Abdul Jabbar Leghari, Professor at the Dr. M.A. Kazi Institute of Chemistry in Jamshoro. Noreen Leghari had reportedly run away from Hyderabad (Sindh) to Lahore on February 10, 2017, hoping to join IS in Syria. She came to Lahore to meet Ali Tariq, a resident of Baidian Road, Lahore, whom she had contacted through social media. On reaching Lahore they got married and started living in rented a house in the Punjab Society.
Alarmed over the growing involvement of university students’ in terrorist activities in Karachi, the Sindh Police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) summoned the Vice-Chancellors of 11 universities in Karachi on July 9, 2017, in a bid to counter extremism and terrorism. CTD Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Raja Omar Khattab, however, clarified, “Basically, we have not summoned the vice-chancellors, but invited them to join us so we can brief them on serious matters.”
Later, on July 12, 2017, CTD organised a seminar titled ‘Growing radicalisation in educational institutions’ at the Central Police Office in Karachi which was attended by Vice Chancellors and other officials of around 40 varsities, both private and public. Speaking at the seminar, CTD chief Additional Inspector General (IG) Dr. Sanaullah Abbasi noted,
Radicalisation [is] growing at academic institutes with the CTD assessing that the next generation of militants [is] more likely to have university education rather than a madrassa background. The recent cases of Noreen Leghari and Saad Aziz gave credence to this theory.
CTD Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Operations, Munir Ahmed Shaikh further pointed out, “Small pockets of radicalisation [are] emerging in academic institutes. There [is] a thin line between preaching and radicalisation.”
CTD’s SSP (Intelligence) Omar Shahid Hamid added that the Department had assessed that youth who had been radicalised at academic institutions were “sophisticated and trained” and warned, “Radicalisation is growing and we fear that the militants are more likely to emerge from secular academic institutes.”
During the July 12 seminar, leading academicians had called for a coordinated and strong policy to check the extremism that they believed was not limited to conventional madrasas (seminaries) but could now be found in reputed public and private educational institutions, negating the ‘myth’ that radicalisation was a product of poverty and illiteracy. Questions were raised about the efficacy of intelligence agencies in curbing radicalisation despite their presence on campuses. Dr. Roshan Rashidi Acting Vice Chancellor of of DUET questioned the role of 10-12 intelligence agencies’ personnel operating at each Varsity, if they could not detect extremism and terrorism there. Mohammad Salih, Director of the People’s Medical University in Nawabshah District, argued that agencies’ personnel were ‘interfering’ in their administration and financial affairs, but were not fulfilling their role in preventing militancy on campus.
The State apparatus has long been aware of growing radicalisation among the youth in educational institutions as well as of militant outfits luring educated students to join them. The recent incidents, however, demonstrate the Government’s comprehensive failure to curb the growing menace.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management