Bank robberies, extortion and kidnapping for ransom cases have been rampant in recent times, and while the general perception is that local criminal elements are behind these activities, senior officials painted a different picture by warning that militant organisations were masterminding these crimes to generate funds for terrorist activities.
The militant presence was confirmed by the July killing of local Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Umer Khattab, who was shot dead in an encounter with the Manghopir police. A head constable also lost his life in the same shootout.
Investigators said that the suspect was wanted in more than 25 cases of target killing, including those of personnel from the Crime Investigation Department (CID) Sindh. They added that Umer was also suspected of numerous bank robberies that generated funds for his militant organisation.
Banks robbed for funds
There were at least nine successful bank robberies in 2012 and officials said that the bandits got away with millions. Senior Superintendent of Police for the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), Khurram Waris, said that the banks looted by banned outfits included the Muslim Commercial Bank, United Bank Limited, Summit Bank and Bank Al-Islami
“Militants are very active in the city and not only are they looting banks and extorting money, but are also kidnapping wealthy traders and businessmen for ransom,” the SSP said.
He added that militants held by the department confessed that the funds raised through bank robberies and extortion were being used for terrorist activities. “These are not common bandits,” Waris warned.
The weapons used by the militants in their robberies including submachine guns (SMGs), TT pistols and repeaters. On occasion, the vehicles used in the crimes bore government number plates, he said.
Prosperous businessmen in several areas of the city, including Banaras, Sohrab Goth, SITE and Manghopir lost their hard-earned money to menacing extortionists, who
delivered their ‘Parchis’ at will and failure to pay up often ended with deadly consequences.
While there were local elements involved in this illegal activity, militants also played their role in terrorising the business community by demanding extortion money, said SSP Waris.
Kidnapping for ransom was another method used by these terrorists, he added. Waris maintained that the kidnappers would take these people to Waziristan and demand around Rs10 million for their release. Once the ransom was delivered, the abducted person would be brought back to Karachi and released.
The SSP said that the police had busted a major network of the TTP that was kidnapping businessmen.
The Jundullah factor
Another organisation notorious for its involvement in bank robberies and other crimes was the banned Jundullah outfit, whose senior commander Qasim Toori was now behind bars. These militants had access to police uniforms and vehicles bearing government number plates, which they used in their criminals operations.
One of their networks was busted by the Special Investigation Unit from the Shah Latif area, where three militants were killed during an encounter, while the same number of men was arrested.
Their commander, Ameer Qasim Tori, was among the people taken into custody. Further police action led to the dismantling of another Jundullah network, but recent reports suggested that the organisation was regrouping to raise more money.
2011 saw activists of the banned group escape from the City Courts when their accomplices lobbed hand grenades and managed to free the detained men.
Waris said that the SIU was keeping a close eye on the group and was working towards dismantling all its networks.
Meanwhile, another senior police official said that militant outfits were confronted with serious financial constraints due to the operations of the armed forces in the northern areas that effectively cut off their source of income from abroad; mainly the middle-east.
The militants of these groups were considered highly skilled and this was evident from the manner in which they executed bank robberies.
The senior police official said that the banks were looted in such a manner that the neither the guards nor the police had time to react to the situation.
He added that the militants did not hesitate even for a single moment to kill any policeman or bank guards that offered resistance.
Sources further revealed that in order increase funding, TTP was hiring manpower from various banned outfits including Jundullah, Lasker-i-Jhangvi.