The many shades of Saad Aziz

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By Sidrah Roghay

The President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Husain once walked the corridors at the Institute of Business Administration. So did Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of the country, and Asad Umer, former Chief Executive Officer for Engro Companies.

So when only big names and success stories are attached to an educational institute, a terrorism suspect like Saad Aziz strikes shockwaves. And when the act of terrorism is as gruesome as shooting dead a bus full of unarmed Ismaili passengers, or pulling a trigger at an unsuspecting social activist like Sabeen Mahmud—it makes breaking news.

On May 20, at a press conference held by Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, the names of four alleged terrorists were revealed. The police said that the suspects had confessed to killing social activist Sabeen Mahmud, murdering 45 Ismaili passengers on a bus, grenade attacks on several schools, the attack on an American professor Debra Lobo and aggression against members of the Bohri community.

One of the suspects was Aziz, who graduated from the IBA in 2011. Aziz stood out from the general profile of terrorists. He was not madrassa-educated.

Aziz had done his A Levels from the Lyceum. Before this he studied at the Beaconhouse School System. Born to an affluent family, Aziz lived in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, an upper-middle class locality. His father once worked for the Unilever as a director. He was married, had a child, and owned a profitable high-end restaurant called the Cactus at the Sindh Muslim Cooperative Society.

At the IBA

The general air at the IBA is that of extreme anger at the media. Aziz is innocent until proven guilty; and IBA did not have anything to do with the alleged terrorist.

“The media is being sensationalist. Bad journalism,” said Asma Zubair, a graduate of the IBA.

People who knew Aziz from IBA remember him as a gentle, polite person.

“I met him several times,” said his university colleague. “He was never overtly religious. A very amicable young fellow.”

A teacher who taught him remembered him as someone who did not talk a lot, “But when he asked questions, they were very good sensible questions.”

Dr Huma Baqai, a teacher at the IBA said, “He was a very hardworking child and passed with good grades.”

“It is troubling to know that terrorist thoughts and ideologies have also managed to affect youngsters with good education and decent parentage,” she said.

His close friends chose to keep their lips zipped. Many are angry at the media for probing too much. They believe Aziz is innocent.

Meanwhile, ever since his arrest his friend list on Facebook is reducing every day. People who learn about his alleged crimes are deleting him for fear of being contacted by investigation agencies.

Facebook display picture of Saad Aziz

His restaurant

The Cactus looks deserted, the waiters bored. It is a medium sized restaurant with bright lights and orange walls.

On its Facebook page with 60,000 likes, hate comments are pouring in.

“14 May Ismaili Killing Day”

“Unbelievable a restaurant and terrorism”

Qatil say gift mang rahe ho shame on you”

The Cactus situated at Sindh Muslim Cooperative Society, where many other cafes are, attracted a decent amount of customers.

It was once called the Kahva. But just before Aziz left IBA he was busy rebranding the family owned restaurant, his friends recall.

He had handed over the restaurant’s social media accounts to a digital media company. “He visited our office a few times to talk about the campaign,” said an employee at the company. “He seemed really nice. None of us can believe the news.”

The journey

The journey from a good student to an alleged terrorist is blurred. There are dots—vague gaps and lots of questions.

A newspaper report alleged that Aziz had become religiously inclined after attending various lectures at the IBA Iqra Society, a student group which organizes events where guest scholars speak about the Muslim way of life.

Many students scoffed at the allegation. “People at the Society are nice, moderately religious people,” said a student.

Another student added that the speakers never preached jihad or extremism.

But ideologies are not just preached through asking students to wage jihad. Take for example the profile of a speaker who addressed students at their Annual Islamic Conference this April.

Adnan Rashid, who calls himself a historian, has a staunch anti-West stance. Posts on his Facebook page denounces the West and blames it for all of the problems the Muslim world has faced. An avid follower of the scholar would come to the conclusion that the West and Muslims are stuck in an eternal clash.

This bifurcation between the West and Muslims, them and us, has been used by religious scholars and political parties to explain much of what is happening in the Muslim world. Simplistic views like the West being responsible for the problems of the Muslim world – these are the ideas that the Salafist thought is based upon.

When such speakers talk to impressionable minds, they are bound to develop a simplistic worldview which looks for the enemy in the West.

Aziz went to Waziristan twice for training. He was responsible for translating Urdu pamphlets into English. And he shot dead Sabeen Mahmud for her campaign against Lal Masjid, stated a report published in Dawn.

In a blog post which appeared in Express Tribune, Aziz’s friend from Lyceum said that as a teenager Aziz never had a close friend circle. “The more I think about it, the more I see how Saad was simply looking for a guiding hand throughout his A’levels, a bag hanging on his back….he remained on the periphery… The extremists may [have been] able to offer him something that our schooling system was unable to: a group of people where we felt valued, where we have purpose,” he wrote.

Amir Rana, director Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank said, “The presence of extremist tendencies in upper middle class and elite classes is not new, however in recent years their numbers have grown.”

Pointing at the growing number of ISIS militants from the West he said, “The Muslim diaspora in the West are familiar with these extremist tendencies.”

Daniel Pearl murderer Omar Saeed Sheikh, Al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, Al Qaeda operative Dr Arshad Waheed, Time Square bombing planner Faisal Shahzad, Danish embassy bombing culprit Hamad Adil, and the hijacker of a navy frigate at Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani are just few names, he said.

He added that Aziz belonged to a sleeper cell, “These groups can generate funds through criminal activity and because of their small size. They can sustain their activities on minimal resources.”

And he warned that this is not the only group active in Karachi.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/the-many-shades-of-saad-aziz/#sthash.oBc8xGZ3.dpuf

Would-be suicide bomber reunites with family

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By Sidrah Roghay

Karachi

At the age of 15, Muhammad Asif* has cheated death quite a few times already. Kidnapped from a seminary in Karachi; taken to Quetta; drugged and tortured; forced to don a suicide bombing jacket; but then sent back to Karachi.

Now back with his family, the would-have-been child suicide bomber is ready to share his story.

“It was after Asr. Maulvi sahib asked me to meet him after the prayer,” recalls Asif, who studied at the Tahafeez ul Quran Malikia Madressa in Mangopir, an impoverished neighbourhood in the north of Karachi infested by Islamic militants. “A black car was waiting for me outside. Maulvi sahib instructed me to sit in the car and bring back a parcel. I asked him to come with me but he insisted that I go alone.”

From what he narrates, the cleric was involved in his kidnapping all along. A few hours into the journey, Asif panicked and began to scream. “The men put a handkerchief to my nose and I went to sleep.”

The boy was drugged. When he next opened his eyes, he found himself in a room, tired and groggy. “There were three more boys sleeping in the room; two of my age, one slightly older,” he says.

Asif started screaming. “Two men with long hair and beards appeared,” he recalls. “They asked me to shut up but when I did not, they drugged me again.”

The boy soon lost track of time, sleeping under the influence of drugs most of the time. He was drugged every night, only to be put to sleep when he regained consciousness.

“They would hit me whenever I screamed. One day they said they will break my limbs. Once they even tried to do it with a knife but their mother came inside. She shouted: ‘Hit me if you want but leave the child alone,’” Asif recalls. “She saved me.”

The teenager found out that he was no longer in Karachi, but in Quetta. Then one day, he and the three other boys in the room were forced to put on a suicide jacket. Asif says the day was when elections were being held across the country.

“But the kidnappers’ mother came to my help again. ‘Take me if you want but leave the child alone,’ she pleaded to them, begging them while crying. The men had no other option but to leave me alone.”

Asif never saw the three boys again. A few days later he was brought back to Karachi. “I was taken to the Masjid-e-Tayyab Madressa Nizamia, a seminary at Al-Asif Square in Sohrab Goth,” he says. “An armed man always guarded me; even when I went to the bathroom.”

The only time the boy was allowed for himself was a few minutes to say his prayers. This is also when Asif managed to pass on his father’s phone number to some people, who came to the mosque to offer their prayers.

Finally someone contacted his family in Mangopir who came with 15 armed men to get hold of the boy from the seminary. They had to go armed because the police refused to help.

Where are the police?

On June 25, about 50 men gathered outside the Karachi Press Club to protest against the police for refusing to book the three clerics – Qari Abdul Khaliq, Qari Abu Bakr and Hafiz Nazeer – whom the family accused of kidnapping Asif.

Every year at least 10 children are kidnapped from Mangopir, the residents claim. “We were lucky to find our child,” said Asif’s uncle. “Often the parents of seminary students are so poor that they put their children there for the free food and shelter and forget all about them.”

Mangopir SHO Aslam Joya denies the reports of missing children. “This [Asif’s case] was the only one we have registered. There have been no other instances of missing children in the area.”

The police have lodged an FIR (181/2013) and are investigating the crime, he added.

Why the children?

In about 393 suicide bombings across Pakistan since the turn of the millennium, over 5,500 people have lost their lives and more than 14,000 have been injured. The attacks are often carried by trained suicide bombers, mostly young men from poor backgrounds who believe the war in the name of god will take them to paradise.

Zahid Hussain, author and analyst, who has spent time with child suicide bombers, explains children are used in terrorist attacks as they are agile and get past security checks relatively easily. In some instances gangs kidnap children from very impoverished backgrounds and then sell them off to militant organisations.

In November 2012, the Peshawar police also arrested a 13-year-old boy wearing a suicide jacket. After a bomb squad defused the explosives, the child disclosed he had been forced to carry out the attack, claims a recent report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (Sparc) titled “The State of the Children of Pakistan 2012”.

Lifetime scars

When Asif was found, he would go for days without speaking to anyone, even his immediate family members. He was scared of everyone.

Most child suicide bombers suffer immense psychological trauma, experts claim. “The hardened ones stick to their beliefs such as killing Shia community members to be guaranteed a place in heaven,” says Hussain. “We need to rehabilitate them and make them useful citizens.”

Efforts are under way to “de-radicalise” these suicide bombers by the Pakistan Army. Four “de-radicalisation centres” are operational in Swat and FATA, according to the military’s media cell, the Directorate of Inter-Services Public Relations known as the ISPR.

The first such centre “Sabaoon” was established in Swat in 2009 to rehabilitate children aged between nine and 15. The centre has successfully reintegrated 154 juveniles into the society.

For adults aged 16 and above, Mishal was set up in Swat in June 2010; Heila was established in Tank in November 2011; and Naway Sahar was set up in Bajaur in January 2011. These three de-radicalisation centres have benefited 1,224 people.

*Name changed to protect privacy