Pakistani Police Arrest Karachi Bombing Suspect

Monday, January 19, 2004

Attacks damage Bible Society shop, Anglican cathedral.
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, January 19 (Compass) -- Pakistani police arrested one suspect and seized a “huge” cache of powerful explosives in Karachi over the weekend, declaring both were linked to grenade and car bomb explosions at a local Bible Society shop on January 15.

Identified as Shamim Ahmed, 25, a militant of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, the suspect was arrested Saturday in a middle-class neighborhood of eastern Karachi. “Ahmed was believed to be linked to the attack on the Christian organization,” a senior police official told the Associated Press.

By Sunday night, information from Ahmed’s interrogations led police to a bomb-making factory in an abandoned house in Karachi’s poor Mehmoodabad district. The store of arms included heavy ammunition, detonators, grenades, parcel bombs, timing devices and at least two large bombs ready for use, police said.

At least 13 people were injured in last Thursday’s two blasts, occurring 15 minutes apart shortly after 3 p.m. at the Karachi branch of the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS). In operation since 1944, the Bible shop is adjacent to the reading room of the Church of Pakistan’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in central Karachi.

In the first attack, a grenade was hurled from a passing motorbike toward the Bible shop’s front windows, shattering all the panes and exploding shrapnel everywhere. Just minutes before, local police authorities had received an anonymous telephone call threatening violence against the Bible Society.

“I was standing inside the shop at the door of my office when the grenade exploded,” PBS staffer Peter Pervaiz, told Compass today. A fragment of shrapnel hit Pervaiz in the forehead, burrowing under the skin between his eyebrows. Two other staff men in the office were not injured, he said.

Fifteen minutes later, after a number of police officers had arrived at the scene, a stolen Suzuki vehicle exploded, wounding a dozen people. Parked 70 feet from the Bible Society shop, the car contained a bomb which experts said had weighed at least eight kilos (17 pounds). It demolished four cars and heavily damaged another six vehicles.

Initial investigators said apparently the second blast was meant to harm a large number of people, particularly police officials, and also draw journalists to the scene for maximum press coverage. However, no one was injured seriously by either blast.

“The people who are doing this are not friends of Pakistan,” director Anthony Lamuel of the Pakistan Bible Society told Compass by telephone from Lahore. “They want to do whatever they can to mar our image.”

Lamuel said that Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad Khan joined visiting Bishop of Lahore John Alexander Malik and himself to tour the scene of the bombing the next day. Afterwards, the governor announced that damages to the Bible Society shop and the cathedral compound would be repaired at government cost.

One stained glass window at the Church of Pakistan’s Holy Trinity Cathedral was broken, windows of the church’s reading room adjacent to the Bible Society shop were broken, and a section of the church compound’s side wall was damaged.

Sketches of the two bearded men who had stolen the van from a government employee were released to the media by Thursday evening, with the Sindh government also offering a reward of 1 million rupees ($16,700) for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.

Today the PBS staff were cleaning up the debris at the shop, Lamuel said, but it would be next week before plans were finalized to repair the building and install adequate security protection at the front entrance.

Although Pervaiz was only hospitalized for a few hours after the incident, doctors who checked his wound today plan to operate on Wednesday to remove the embedded fragment from his forehead.

“Everyone has some fear that (the terrorists) can do it again,” Pervaiz admitted. “Maybe we can open the shop again after two or three days, but my staff are also fearful.”

The last violent attack against a Christian institution in Karachi was in September 2002, when armed militants shot to death seven Christians at the Institute of Peace and Justice, a Catholic-sponsored welfare organization. According to Bishop Malik, who as chairman of the Pakistan Bible Society addressed a press conference in Karachi three days ago, the murderers in that attack have yet to be identified, arrested and punished.

A total of seven terrorist attacks targeting Pakistan’s Christian churches and institutions have left 42 dead and 101 injured since September 2001, when the Islamabad government threw its support behind the U.S.-led offensive against the al-Qaeda movement.