May issue 2004
“They had planned to use explosives to destroy the boundary wall of the prison through a remote control bomb,” says an intelligence source, revealing details of a jailbreak planned by militants in Karachi. He said that if information had not been leaked in advance to jail officials, the militants may have broken through and escaped.
Soon after the attempt was aborted, scores of police armed with assault rifles took up positions on the watchtowers and gates of the prison. Paramilitary troops in vehicles mounted with machine guns have also started patrolling the fences as well as streets surrounding the prison.
There are nearly 5,500 prisoners, including nearly 180 hardcore Islamists belonging to outlawed militants groups, housed in this colonial-era jail, which is located in the east of the city of Karachi. Some of the militants in prison are facing prosecution in connection with assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf, suicide attacks at the US Consulate and killing of 11 French engineers in Karachi and other such acts of terrorism.
This is the second time that these militants have attempted a jailbreak in the span of the last two years. When British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was detained for his alleged involvement in the kidnap-slaying of the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia correspondent, Daniel Pearl, he was moved to Hyderabad prison, after authorities learnt that his comrades-in-arm planned to storm Karachi prison to release him.
Investigations into the latest jailbreak attempt revealed that all the militants are housed in separate cells in this high-walled prison, but the jail administration had allowed them to say their prayers collectively every day from 6 to 11 in the morning and to recite the Quran in a mosque located within the compound of the prison. “Since all these militants meet at the mosque every day, this is where they conceived the idea and chalked out the strategy to escape,” says an official privy to the investigations.
Investigators said these militants coordinated the plan with a convict by the name of Khurram, who comes from Mansehra in the North-West Frontier Province. Khurram was involved in a murder case in Mansehra and was sentenced to hang by the court after he was proven guilty. He managed to escape from the jail premises some two years back and had sought shelter somewhere in Karachi. He was arrested again by the police after they recovered a pistol from his possession. “He became known to these militants in the mosque inside the prison, where he was a regular visitor,” says a source.
The militants requested Khurram to ask his relatives to help them smuggle small weapons as well as urea, potassium and other material used in making bombs. “Khurram had already asked his brother who came to meet him in jail this month to get the small weapons concealed in the bottom of locally made sandals and to smuggle them inside the jail,” says a source.
These sources said substances used in making bombs were supplied to them on a small scale inside the jail and they hadalready practiced making a bomb. “They put small amounts of urea, potassium, soap particles and other substances in a small glass bottle and detonated it inside the jail,” says an insider.
“Some of the militants detained in the jail are real experts in making these bombs,” says an investigator. A militant called Hafiz Zubair, who belonged to the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group and was part of the jailbreak gang, has been imparting training to these militants in making these bombs in Afghanistan, according to the investigation.
Sources said the other militants who were part of the jailbreak gang include Sharib, Wasim alias Orangi Townwalla, Faisal alias Pehlwan, Sabir Ali Waseem, Roshan Raza and others. Most of the gang members belonged to the Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Aalami, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other outlawed militant groups.
According to the plan revealed to the investigators, fellow militants outside the jail had been asked to park a car laden with explosives at the eastern side of the prison and to detonate it through remote control. “They had expected that this car bomb would either blow the jail wall into pieces or would create a hole large enough for them to escape,” says an investigator. “The blast, according to their estimate, would create chaos, and they would then escape from the jail, using small weapons that they had planned to smuggle inside.”
“They had already communicated the exact timing as well as the date of the escape attempt to militants outside the jail through their lookouts, while the weapons they had ordered were also on the way,” says an investigator.
These investigators said the attempt was foiled after one of the militants who was initially part of the whole plan lost his nerve and leaked the information to the jail administration. He leaked the plan to the authorities after he realised that the explosion would kill many innocent people inside and outside the jail.
Immediately after the plan was leaked, the authorities started investigating into the conspiracy. “The militants had burried sulphur, potassium and urea in the ground near cell no 19, where they were detained,” says an insder. Sources said they collected small amounts of urea, sulphur, potassium and other residues used in the bombs from inside the premises. All the militants are now locked up in isolation wards, where they are being grilled.
The police have also arrested Khurram’s brother who was supposed to supply small arms. He has confessed to the police that he had already ordered at least a dozen sandals with concealed T.T pistols in the Frontier province and had to simply collect them to supply to his brother.
Authorities are now planning to transfer the suspects behind the conspiracy to different jails across the country. “It will be very difficult to keep them in isolation cells for a long time and the best way to avoid a major mishap in the future is to shift them to different prisons, because we know that keeping all of them at one place can turn out to be a disaster,” admits a senior official.