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March 14, 2019

Police finally confirm six deaths at Qasr-e-Naz were caused by fumigation


March 14, 2019

Claiming to have solved the mystery behind the deaths of five siblings and their aunt who had arrived in Karachi from Balochistan last month, police investigators have revealed that the poisonous fumigation at Qasr-e-Naz, the federal lodge where the family had stayed, was the actual cause of the fatalities.

The revelation about the cause of the deaths came during a news conference held by DIG South Zone Sharjeel Kharal at the Saleem Wahidi Auditorium in the Clifton driving licence branch on Wednesday. District South Investigations SSP Tariq Dharejo accompanied the DIG at the news conference.

“Aluminum phosphide led to the deaths of six members of a family that had stayed at Qasr-e-Naz guesthouse last month,” DIG Kharal explained. “We have so far arrested nine suspects including, chief engineer Nadeem Shaikh, in connection with the incident over charges of manslaughter.”

The arrested suspects were employees at the guesthouse, who, besides the chief engineer, included an assistant executive engineer, sub-engineer, assistant controller, receptionist, sweeper and contractors.

“The investigations of the case are under way. More people would be included in the investigations and arrested if they are found to be involved in the incident,” DIG Kharal said.

Five children, including 18-month-old Abdul Ali, Aziz Faisal, 4, Aliya, 6, Tauheed, 7, and Salwa, 9, died after their health mysteriously deteriorated on the night between February 21 and 22 when they were staying at Qasr-e-Naz. A day after the five children died, their aunt, Bina Badaruddin, also died during treatment at a private hospital in the city.

The deceased children’s mother was also shifted to a hospital as she felt ill; however, she was discharged after receiving first aid. The father, Faisal Zaman Kakar, who runs a construction business in Balochistan, arrived in Karachi from Balochistan with the family on February 21 for medical treatment of his wife.

The authorities initially suspected that the family had consumed some toxic food that led to the deaths. It was revealed during the investigations that they ate lunch at a friend's house in Khuzdar and consumed potato chips and juices at Hub Chowki.

Later, the family purchased biryani from a restaurant, Naubahar, in Karachi which they ate at the guest house. The victims fell sick on the night between February 21 and 22 and were taken to a private hospital where the doctors declared the five siblings dead on arrival.

The police sealed Room No 58 of the guest house where the victims stayed. The Naubahar Biryani Centre and Student Biryani were also sealed as investigations started following the registration of a case at the Civil Lines police station.

However, the police authorities finally declared it on Wednesday that the consumption of toxic food was not the reason behind the deaths as the victims died due to their exposure to a toxic gas released by a compound used in fumigation done by the guesthouse staff.

Ruling out the possibility of toxic food behind the tragedy, the DIG South said, “Phosphine was found in the viscera of the deceased.” He added that the poisonous gas was also detected in the blood and stomachs of the deceased, citing the laboratory reports of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) and HEJ, Karachi University.

The officer explained to media persons that phosphine was an extremely poisonous gas which was widely used as an agriculture fumigant. He added that the gas was released by a compound, aluminium phosphide, which had been used in the fumigation,

Aluminium phosphide is not used for fumigation as there is a law that governs its use, DIG Kharal said, adding that it could not be used in houses and lodges and according to the law, only a licence holder can use the substance.

The officer maintained that Qasr-e-Naz’s record suggested that the guest house had been using aluminium phosphide since the last six years after their contract with a private company ended in 2013.

“The guest house staff attempted to destroy evidence but the police investigators found empty bottles of the substance during the search of the guesthouse’ storeroom,” the DIG explained. He added that the suspects had been booked under the Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with Qatl-Bis-Sabab for which the prescribed punishment is Diyat. DIG Kharal said the incident was investigated by two separate special police teams which visited the crime scene and interrogated all the staff of the guest house.

The Sindh Food Authority collected 27 samples from Naubahar and Student Biryani and sent them to the SGS laboratory in Korangi, the officer explained. A digital video recording of the guest house was also made, he said, adding that a total of 55 suspects including the staff of the guest house, Naubahar and Student Biryani, were included in the investigations.