PAKISTAN: Sabeen’s case-Confession of a jihadi perplexes more than it clarifies

The alleged murderer may have been a radical terrorist that he has professed but either he is not divulging the real intention or is being used as an escape goat by the intelligence agencies.

Karachi, “the city of light”, witnessed another dark moment when freedom of speech activist and owner of “The Second Floor” (T2F), a famous hangout place for poets and intellectuals, was shot dead by unknown assailants on April 25. This happened when the activist, Sabeen Mahmud, and her mother, were returning from a talk held on the subject of Baluchistan. Sabeen, 40, was a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist and was also the Director of T2F, which has been a mainstay for Karachi’s activists since it opened in 2007. Sabeen, the prominent human rights defender, held the talk at T2F in defiance of the orders of the intelligence agencies.

Two journalists have since tried to tried to pierce the mystery surrounding Sabeen’s murder. In a detailed report published in the monthly, The Herald on July 2015, the journalist duo, Naziah Syed Ali and Fahim Zaman, met and interviewed the alleged murderer, Saad Aziz, to learn about the motive behind the murder.

Aziz, a father of two and an entrepreneur who runs his own restaurant at an upscale market hardly fits the description of a macho bearded Madraasah educated fundamentalist vying for a return of the caliphate; rather, he went to top class English medium school. The transition from hipster to murderer has apparently left everyone, including his friends and family flabbergasted. According to the report, Aziz told the reporter that the reason decided to kill Sabeen was because she was promoting liberal and secular values and was running a campaign against radicals of the notorious mosque of Islamabad, the Lal Masjid, in addition to promoting vulgarity, by celebrating Valentine’s Day at T2F.

The report sheds light and chronicles events the day Sabeen was murdered. However, it also raises question marks due to the discrepancies in Saad’s confession. According to the reporter, the real motive behind Sabeen’s murder has not emerged yet, because Aziz himself has been busy holding “couple’s day” at his restaurant. Though Aziz’s confession hardly mentions the talk on Baluchistan, for which Sabeen was receiving threats, that her murder was committed on the very day of the talk held can’t be ignored as a mere coincidence.

Also, as per the report, the weapon used for the murder was a 9 mm Stoeger, a widely available gun in Pakistan, used by gun enthusiasts looking for an economic solution to their security needs. However, according to a news report published in the Tribune, the investigators were unable to match the casings of bullets. A police officer investing the case was quoted as saying that “a new group or new weapon has been used in the killing”. The weapon of choice for the murder appears to be a sophisticated weapon not available in Pakistan. However, if Aziz’s statement is anything to go by, either the police have been too naïve to recognize the casing of the popularly used weapon, or Aziz is a cover up for a larger action to cover the tracks of Pakistan’s most powerful institution.

The real motive behind the murder could be concealed in the fact that many Pakistanis and not just Sabeen actively criticize and condemn the Taliban, Al Qaeda and all their operatives. And there are a number of forums available to the masses to air their views. Singling Sabeen out for condemnation perplexes many and raises the question about the real intention of the assassination.

In addition to Sabeen, Aziz has also confessed to killing 43 people belonging to the Ismaili community while they were travelling in a bus. This mass murder left the citizens of Karachi in shock, and elicited condemnation from international community. Recounting the gruesome act, Saad confessed that he considers the community as infidel and liable to be murdered. It is perfectly acceptable to take the lives of women and children for that reason”, he is quoted to have said.

Aziz radicalization began in 2010, states the report, after Aziz met Haris, an al-Qaeda operative, who was heading Al-Qaeda’s recruitment wing for Pakistan at the time. In 2011, Aziz went to Waziristan for training. It wasn’t until 2013 that Aziz alias Tin Tin was introduced to Tahir Minhas , the head of the group of Al-Qaeda’s sleeper cell in Karachi that Aziz found his calling. Earlier, he was limited to media duties — such as managing online jihadist publications, but after joining Tahir and his splinter group, which had pledged allegiance to IS, Aziz was assigned to take part in terrorist activities. By 2015, as per Aziz’s confession, he had taken part in 20 terrorist acts in Karachi. These include an attack on American academic Debra Lobo, bank heists, attacks on the police and the Rangers, and grenade attacks on co-education schools in Karachi.

In the second part of the investigative report it has been revealed that there are discrepancies in the dates and manner of Aziz’s arrest. As per the police report, Aziz was arrested near Gulsha-e-Maymar, a deserted area near the outskirts of Karachi on May 19. However Aziz’s family insists that he was arrested after the police raided his home located in Gulsha-e-Iqbal, a central area of the city, on May 20. The family also accused the police officer of looting the house and taking away mobiles, cash, and jewellery. A motorcycle and car belonging to the family were also taken away by the police officers.
No confessional statement has yet been made by those arrested along with Aziz to corroborate Aziz’z statements. Beyond their academic qualifications and alma maters, no other details have been made available to the public.

The confessional statement, if it is ever used in a court of law, will fail to stand even a basic test, due to discrepancies and loopholes. It is hard to fathom that Sabeen, a mild and soft-spoken activist was a threat to the ideologies propagated by Al-Qaeda or other extremist groups.

There is little doubt that she was targeted for her courage and persistence to go on with the talk on the subject of Baluchistan, which is an Achilles heels for the establishment. Aziz may have been a radical terrorist as he has professed, but either he is not divulging real intentions or is being used as a scapegoat by the intelligence agencies.