KARACHI - Police investigators have found growing use of licensed arms in targeted killings and terror attacks in the city in recent months, including the June 2014 brazen attack on Karachi airport that had shaken the country's security administration and caused a huge death toll and financial loss, it emerged on Saturday.
The officials arrived at this conclusion during the course of investigations into the airport attack leading to the arrest of four Al Qaeda and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan suspects in October.
"It all began with forensic and legal examinations of the pieces of evidence found at the attack site," said an official while sharing findings of the airport attack investigation with Dawn.
"Among other things," he said, "a 9mm pistol had been found at the attack site. The pistol had not been used by the security forces personnel while combating the attackers. A forensic examination of the pistol showed it was licensed and the legal document of the arm was originally issued from Shahdadkot in Sindh."
The findings helped the police investigators track down their four handlers, who were later identified as Sarmad Siddiqi, Nadeem alias Burger alias Mullah, Asif Zaheer and Essa alias Master, he said.
"They were arrested in the Tariq Road area and other localities of the metropolis. The suspects had arranged accommodation in Shah Faisal Colony for the militants who stormed the Terminal 1 of Karachi airport on June 8 and had provided every possible logistical support, funds and arms to the militants," the official explained.
The development convinced the investigators to look into this very aspect of the case and dig deeper to ascertain if licensed weapons were used in the terror attack only or also targeted killings. Doubts started meeting reality checks when a forensic examination of several spent bullet casings, which were seized from the crime scene of a targeted killing, was carried out, the official said.
The findings were later confirmed to Dawn by the chief of the CID police counter-terror unit and key man behind the investigations into the airport attack and other high-profile cases, Raja Umer Khattab. While terming the trend alarming, the officer said it could only be addressed through a proper mechanism of arms licensing currently being computerised in Sindh.
"Apart from that particular case, a few months ago when we raided a hideout of a banned organisation, we arrested a few suspects and seized four pistols from them. They all were licensed from Thatta district," he said.
"Similarly, it was found that licensed pistols were used in several sectarian killings this year. Since the investigations are still on, it is not the appropriate time to disclose details of those killings.
"The Sindh government has taken a very good initiative to computerise arm licences but loopholes should also be addressed," said the CID counter-terror unit chief.
He said the use of 9mm pistols in criminal and terrorist activities had multiplied over the past five years. While the licensing of 9mm pistols was allowed, the authorities must also design a process to block every possibility for its negative use, he said. "As an urgent measure, the authorities can involve arm dealers in the licensing process before taking Sindh police's forensic division on board for licensing of every single weapon to keep record of licensed pistols and their ammunition," he said.