December Issue 2005
The BLA Strikes Back
The security and intelligence agencies investigating the November 8 car bombing outside the PIDC House in Karachi, have come to the conclusion that the blast was clearly linked to the September 22 twin-bicycle explosions in Lahore. According to them, both acts of terror, that killed a total of 13 people, were carried out by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), an ethnic nationalist group which represents the violent side of the Balochi struggle for their rights, which they claim have been denied to them by the establishment.
According to well informed interior ministry sources, security agencies have so far arrested five people for their involvement in the Karachi bomb blast which left three dead and 22 injured. The suspects who, security agencies say, have already confessed to their crimes, reportedly belong to the BLA. One of the suspects, believed to be the mastermind behind the bombing, was arrested from his Malir hideout in Karachi, just a day after the bombing, along with a cache of improvised explosive devices and weapons. The five suspects include a police official, Mohammad Osman, working with the Anti-Car Lifting Cell in Karachi.
A few hours after the Karachi bombing, a BLA spokesman claimed responsibility, saying they detonated the car bomb outside the PIDC (Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation) building, which houses the head office of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL). “We claim responsibility for it,” said the BLA spokesman in a telephone call to the Associated Press. “We didn’t want to hurt civilians. We did it to protest, and we did it to pressure the government to give us our rights.” Intelligence sources said that, taking the lead from the phone call, they were quick to trace the PCO from where the call was made, which led to the mastermind, Aziz Baloch, now in their custody.
“We have arrested the mastermind of the deadly attack, who has been identified as Aziz Baloch, as well as his two accomplices — Mengal Khan and Abdul Jabbar Khan (who was later released for lack of evidence). Aziz and Mengal are brothers,” says the DIG Investigation Karachi, Manzoor Mughal. Investigators obtained the registration number of the car in which the suspects had fled, from the blurred images of the CCTV footage recorded by a surveillance camera installed outside the PIDC House.
Apparently, Aziz Baloch parked the explosive-laden car and later got into another car (AJE-056), which was finally intercepted near Gulshan Chowrangi. During interrogations, the accused confessed to having perpetrated the bomb blast to terrorise PPL officials. The police claim that the arrested persons are employees of Bugti House in Karachi.
The intelligence agencies interrogating the Karachi blast suspects now claim that they have found irrefutable evidence showing the BLA’s involvement in the September 22 bomb blasts in Lahore. Planted beneath the seat of a bicycle, the first bomb that exploded near a makeshift food stall outside the boundary wall of the Minar-e-Pakistan Park, killed three persons while the second bomb, placed under a wooden platform of a jewellery shop in Ichhra market, killed seven people. Informed sources say that the chassis number of two Eagle cycles used in the explosions led to the arrests of two accused, Rana Ilyas and Jan Maqbool, who allegedly confessed to been given the task by Sardar Behram Khan, the grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.
According to Karachi police sources, one suspect belongs to the Kalpar clan of the Bugti tribe, and is working for the BLA. During interrogations, Ilyas and Maqbool confessed to the Karachi bomb blast plan and said their men were already in place. A special CIA raiding team from Lahore rushed to Karachi and passed on the information to the Karachi police four days prior to the November 8, Karachi blast. However, the Karachi police failed to preempt the PIDC bomb blast.
Security and the intelligence agencies, point out that a couple of days before the Karachi bombing, Sardar Akbar Bugti had issued statements that the government was about to launch an offensive against him and that this time he could be killed. They, therefore suspect that he might have hired the BLA to do the job. This conspiracy theory is strengthened by the fact that no well known Baloch personality has condemned the Karachi blast.
From time to time, the BLA has claimed responsibility for sabotaging gas pipelines, electricity grids and other civic infrastructures. Being an underground movement, it is difficult to identify the leadership of the group, although clues are available from websites run by Baloch nationalists to the dramatis personae responsible for guerrilla warfare in Pakistan’s largest, but poorest, province. The BLA has a loose structure, operates with small, autonomous cells able to carry out acts on their own without directives from above. It is considered an underground organisation, which was born in the Balochistan University many years ago, during the cold war era.
Though nationalists in the resource-rich province, have been waging a low-level battle against central rule for decades, the BLA turned more violent in recent years, launching numerous bomb and rocket attacks against natural gas installations in the area. The BLA demands revolve around the historical and current sense of exploitation and deprivation of the province by the the centre. Till recently, the BLA had confined itself to infrastructure sabotage activity within Balochistan, so it came as a surprise when the BLA claimed resonsibility for the PIDC bomb blast. The BLA, which has been active since early 1999, had upped the ante in March 2005, after an army captain allegedly raped a lady doctor in the high-security residential compound of Pakistan Petroleum Limited in Sui. Hundreds of armed Baloch nationalists subsequently stormed the PPL installations within days of the incident, forcing the government to call in the army. The armed clashes resulted in the deaths of 62 civilians and eight army men, leaving the rape victim, Dr Shazia Khalid, with no other option but to leave the country along with her husband.
The last time the BLA had claimed responsibility for a terror attack was in December 10, 2004, when a powerful bomb exploded next to an army truck in Quetta, killing 11 people and wounding 27 others. Most of the victims were civilians. The BLA later expressed regret over the civilian deaths saying that it was security personnel that were targeted. Its spokesman had stated at the time that the bomb attack was in retaliation against the construction of new cantonments in Balochistan.