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October 2, 2019

Police earlier believed 264 died in Baldia fire, ATC told

Karachi

October 2, 2019

Police told an anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Tuesday that they initially believed the death toll in the Baldia factory fire to be 264 because five of the families had identified their dead from their shoes, mobile phones and body parts.

At the time of the incident, 259 dead bodies were taken out of the factory. Of these, 75 were charred beyond recognition and their samples were sent to the laboratory for their DNA identification. Seventeen such bodies still await identification.

The death toll of the incident has risen to 260 after a girl who was injured in the fire along with a few dozen others succumbed to her wounds in December 2016. Among the injured, some are crippled for life and some are suffering medical conditions like asthma.

According to the prosecution, the Ali Enterprises garments factory in Baldia Town was set on fire on September 11, 2012 by some men belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) after the factory owners refused to pay them up to Rs250 million as extortion.

Initially, the investigation had pointed out a short circuit as the cause of the fire and illegal and hazardous structure of the facility as the cause for the multiplicity of the casualties.

However, three years later, a statement from suspected target killer Rizwan Qureshi changed the course of the case. Ten suspects are currently on trial. They include the then MQM’s commerce & industries minister Rauf Siddiqui and some factory employees.

Of these, only Abdul Rehman (alias Bhola), the then joint incharge of the MQM’s Baldia Town Sector, and party worker Zubair (alias Charya) are in jail in judicial custody, while the rest of the accused have secured bail, except the then MQM Karachi Tanzeemi Committee chief Hammad Siddiqui and Ali Hasan Qadri, who are absconding.

On Tuesday Inspector Jahanzaib, a former investigating officer of the case, continued to record his statement before the ATC-VII judge. He said the parts of flesh, limbs and personal belongings were also counted as dead bodies initially and the record was set straight later.

He also said that after Qureshi named Siddiqui and Rehman to be the brains and hands behind the fire, he checked their travel history in a bid to trace them and found that they had already fled to Dubai. Rehman was later arrested from Bangkok, while Siddiqui remained untraceable.

In the previous hearing, the IO had submitted forensic reports about the fire in the court, stating that 75 of the dead bodies were charred beyond recognition and their samples were sent to the laboratory for their DNA identification.

Earlier, Arshad Bhaila, an owner and director of the factory, had testified through video link from the Pakistan Embassy in Dubai that the then Sindh governor Ishratul Ibad and the then Citizens-Police Liaison Committee chief Ahmed Chinoy had threatened him to keep mum over the incident. He claimed that Chinoy had delivered him a message from the Sindh Governor House that he should deposit Rs500,000 in the name of each of the fire victims to the MQM if he wanted to get away from being prosecuted in the case.

He said that he paid around Rs60 million to the MQM but the amount never reached the victims. In the next hearing scheduled for October 9, the defence team is likely to cross examine Jahanzaib’s statement.

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