Anatomy of a murder

Updated Sep 25, 2016 12:45pm
A screen grab from the CCTV footage of National Medical Centre in Defence shows Sabeen Mahmud’s car at the entrance of the hospital | Courtesy National Medical Centre
A screen grab from the CCTV footage of National Medical Centre in Defence shows Sabeen Mahmud’s car at the entrance of the hospital | Courtesy National Medical Centre

It was a 9mm gun, probably a Stoeger. Before Saad Aziz got this “samaan” through an associate, by his own admission, he had already plotted a murder. On the evening of Friday, April 24, 2015, he met four other young men, all well-educated like him, somewhere on Karachi’s Tariq Road to finalise and carry out the plot. As dusk deepened into night, they set off towards Defence Housing Society Phase II Extension on three motorcycles. Their destination: a café-cum-communal space – The Second Floor or T2F – where an event, Unsilencing Balochistan: take two, was under way. Their target: Sabeen Mahmud, 40, the founder and director of T2F.

Two of Aziz’s associates, he says, “were just roaming around in the vicinity of T2F”. A third was keeping an eye on the street outside. Aziz himself was riding a motorcycle driven by one Aliur Rehman, also mentioned as Tony in the police record. When he received the message that Mahmud had left T2F, he says, he followed her. “Suzuki Swift, AWH 541,” he repeats her car’s make and registration number.

As the car stopped at a signal less than 500 metres to the north of T2F, “Tony rode up alongside it.” Mahmud was in the driving seat, Aziz says. “Next to her was her mother, I think. That is what we found out from the news later. There was a man sitting in the back. I fired the gun four or five times at her.”

Sitting in a sparsely furnished room within Karachi Police’s Crime Investigation Department (CID), Aziz appears at ease even in blindfold. Recounting the events of that evening, he never sounds hurried or under duress.

After shooting Mahmud, he says he and Tony turned left from the signal towards Punjab Chowrangi and reached Sharae-e-Faisal, crossing Teen Talwar in Clifton on their way. While still on the motorcycle, he messaged others to get back to Tariq Road. Once there, he just picked up his motorcycle and they all dispersed. “We only got confirmation of her death later from the news,” he says. “At that moment [of shooting], there is no way of confirming if the person is dead. You just do it and get out of there.”

It was on February 13, 2015, when he says he decided that Mahmud had to die. That evening, he was at T2F, attending an event, The Karachi “Situation”: Exploring Responses. “It was something she said during the talk,” he recalls. “That we shouldn’t be afraid of the Taliban, we should stand up to them, demonstrate against them, something like that. That is when we made up our minds.” Later in the conversation, though, he adds, “There wasn’t one particular reason to target her: she was generally promoting liberal, secular values. There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [in Islamabad], Pyaar ho jaane do (let there be love) on Valentine’s Day and so on.” He laughs softly, almost bashfully, as he mentions the last.

Sabeen Mahmud speaks at The Karachi "Situation" event at T2F, Saad Aziz and Aliur Rehman can be seen in the audience at the talk | Courtesy T2F

Aziz remembers visiting The Karachi “Situation” seminar with Tony who, the police say, remains on the run. Pictures and video footage of the event show Aziz sitting at the end of a row, close to the entrance. Next to him is Tony, a round-faced young man with a dark complexion. The police say he is an engineering graduate from the National University of Sciences and Technology, Rawalpindi campus. “Tony had a Twitter account under a fake name and he used to follow Sabeen’s tweets very closely,” says Aziz. He also mentions another source of information. “About four weeks [after the discussion on Karachi], when I got emails about events being held there, I sent Tony there a few times to check if her car was there. It wasn’t.”

On April 24, 2015, Aziz says, he told Tony to go there again. “When he confirmed her car was there, we made the plan there and then.”

"There wasn’t one particular reason to target her; she was generally promoting liberal, secular values. There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [in Islamabad], Pyaar ho jaane do (let there be love) on Valentine’s Day and so on."

By that time, he confesses, he had taken part in 20 major and minor “operations” in Karachi. These include an attack – just eight days before Mahmud’s assassination – on American academic Debra Lobo, who taught at a college in Karachi, bank heists to put together money for their hit-and-run activities, multiple attempts to target the police and the Rangers and grenade attacks on co-education schools in Gulshan-e-Iqbal (on February 3, 2015) and North Nazimabad (on March 18, 2015).

Nineteen days after Mahmud’s murder, Aziz says he took part in an attack that elicited worldwide shock and condemnation: the assassination of 43 members of the Ismaili Shia community, including women and children, travelling in a bus in the Safoora Goth area on the outskirts of Karachi.

Aziz appears as a mild-mannered young man of medium height and build, with a trimmed beard. He makes a little joke about how he can instantly tell which law enforcement or intelligence agency the person asking him questions belongs to. “The first thing the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] want to know is whether there are any links with RAW [the Indian intelligence agency]; CID is interested in the funding aspect; and the police keep hammering on about what other wardaat (hits) we’ve been involved in.”

Aziz calls himself a Salafi, though his father says the family follows Sunni, not Salafi, Islam. When an interrogator asks him why he and his associates targeted Ismaili Shias, he cites their sectarian affiliation as the reason. “It is perfectly acceptable to take the lives of women and children for that reason.”

Wall mural at T2F | Arif Mahmood, White Star
Wall mural at T2F | Arif Mahmood, White Star

Aziz’s radicalisation began in 2009, following a visit to Saudi Arabia for umrah with his family. Upon his return to Pakistan, he decided to read translations of the Quran. “Until then I had only read it once in Arabic.” (One investigator, however, reports that Aziz could not recite certain Quranic verses that every practising Muslim recites at least once a day during Isha prayers.)

For a while, he joined the Tableeghi Jamaat. Then, he took to attending lectures by a scholar, Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) at the time, whose Sufi interpretation of Islam is distinct from what the Tableeghi Jamaat stands for. “But neither [Ahmed] nor Tableeghi Jamaat even discussed jihad,” he says. “It was over time, primarily through reading the Quran, that I developed an inclination towards jihad.”

Aziz then met Tony, whom he suspected had contacts with militants. Tony made him wait for some time before introducing him to one Haris, an al-Qaeda operative. “[Haris] was heading al-Qaeda’s daawati (recruitment) wing for Pakistan at the time. I joined this wing at the end of 2010,” says Aziz.

In September 2013, Haris, whose real name is said to be Abu Zar, was arrested from a hostel of the Punjab University in Lahore, along with two others, for alleged links with al-Qaeda. In the last 22 months, the authorities have not produced him in any court of law for a trial. Police sources in Lahore say Haris and his associates are in ISI’s custody. This information, however, could not be confirmed through other sources.

In 2011, Aziz went to Waziristan for training where, he says, he was attached to a group headed by Ahmad Farooq, deputy head of al-Qaeda in the subcontinent and a former student of Punjab University. (Farooq was killed in an American drone strike in January 2015 in North Waziristan.)

By 2013, Aziz says he was disillusioned and frustrated. Instead of allowing him take part in terrorist operations, his handler Haris limited him to media duties — such as managing online jihadist publications. “In mid-2013, I met Haider Abbas,” says Aziz. Abbas introduced him to Tahir Minhas alias Saeen, identified by the police as a member of al-Qaeda.

Photo by Tonje Thilesen
Photo by Tonje Thilesen

As a senior, experienced commander, Minhas set the ground rules for the group that Aziz joined. “We all used aliases; I only know Tony by his real name,” says Aziz. He got his own alias — Tin Tin. “None of us would ask for the members’ real names, addresses or anything that could identify them in case one of us was arrested. That was on Minhas’s instructions.”

The cell had no designated ‘safe house’ to meet. Minhas often called its members for meetings to Jan Japan Motors, a car auction site on the Super Highway. He also selected the targets. The attack on Mahmud, though, was different. Aziz says it was on his own initiative. “Tahir wasn’t even there that day.”

In 2014, the sudden ascendancy of the Islamic State (IS) and its territorial gains in Iraq and Syria became a lightning rod for militants across the globe. In January this year, IS announced its expansion into Khorasan, a historical region comprising parts of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and some Central Asian countries. Several factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) immediately joined it.

“We just finished a 16-day joint investigation but we have not established any direct or indirect link between him and Daesh. Al-Qaeda’s tentacles, however, touch him in multiple ways. We are sure he is with al-Qaeda."

“Among my acquaintances there was already a lot of discussion about the merits of al-Qaeda and Daesh [the Arabic acronym for IS]. Many of us felt that al-Qaeda was reduced to mainly talk and little action,” Aziz says. “We were in Waziristan when the creation of the [IS’s] Khorasan [chapter] was announced, and we pledged loyalty to its emir, [former TTP commander] Hafiz Saeed Khan.” (A senior official of the Intelligence Bureau in Peshawar says Khan was “in Tor Dara area in Khyber Agency’s Tirah valley in January 2015”, the time period to which Aziz refers.)

Subsequently, he says, some of his associates did pro-IS wall chalking and left propaganda pamphlets in parts of Karachi, especially at the scenes of some of the attacks they carried out. Some of the people working with him, he claims, have gone to Syria as part of an effort to strengthen their connection with the IS leadership there.

Weeks after Mahmud’s murder, Jaadu, her white Persian cat, would sit expectantly by the door of her house for hours every evening, waiting for a familiar footfall on the steps outside. Inside, her mother, Mahenaz Mahmud, sits on a chair looking like her daughter might have 20 years in the future — had she had that much time. The mother also exudes the same warmth, intelligence and artlessness as the daughter — and, since Mahmud’s death, a stoicism that would move a stone to tears.

Mahmud’s cat Jaadu sitting in her bedroom | Arif Mahmood, White Star
Mahmud’s cat Jaadu sitting in her bedroom | Arif Mahmood, White Star

“On April 24, Sabeen made breakfast for us (Mahenaz and Mahenaz’s mother) as usual. That was her routine. She would switch on the kettle, run to her computer, then she would put the bread in the toaster,” Mahenaz recalls with a chuckle. “She didn’t want me to have a cold slice, so she would toast the second slice only after I had finished the first.” They would usually chat away during breakfasts. “We would talk about all kinds of things.” Sometimes, Mahmud would seek her mother’s advice. “She would ask me what I thought of something being done at T2F. Sometimes we would flog some philosophical concept. We would share articles, then discuss them… there was lots that we talked about.”

That day, though, Mahenaz sensed something unusual. “I don’t know whether it was anxiety but there was some element about this Baloch missing people event, especially because of the talk that was cancelled at LUMS [under orders from the ISI],” she says. Mahmud was not moderating the session; she hadn’t even organised it. “Someone else wanted to do it and she had agreed to provide the space,” says Mahenaz. “But she talked to some people about it and then said to me “It’ll be ok, Amma””.

After breakfast, the mother went to work – she is an academic programmes advisor at a teacher training institute – but planned to attend the talk on the Baloch missing persons. “I hadn’t been to any event for a long time because I get quite exhausted by the evening but that day I had a very strong feeling that I must be around her.”

Following the event, around 9pm, Mahmud was planning to drop her mother home, pick up a friend and go to another friend’s place for dinner. “When Sabeen came out [of T2F], I remember she was in a hurry, and she told the driver to sit in the back. I got in the seat next to her and we drove off.”

A short distance away, the Sunset Boulevard traffic signal turned red and their car came to a stop. “It is impossible for me to process those five, 10 seconds,” Mahenaz says quietly. “I was talking to Sabeen, and my face was turned towards her. She was looking in front. A motorcycle came up along the side she was sitting, much too close for comfort. My eyes became riveted on a gun in someone’s hand. I said to Sabeen, “What do you think he wants? He’s got a gun.” I thought it was a mugging. All this must have taken only three or four seconds. Then the window shattered, and Sabeen’s head just tilted to one side; her eyes were open. There was not a moan, not a groan, not a whimper. Then pandemonium broke out around us.”

Mahmud was shot five times. Her mother also took two bullets: one in her back and another that, after going through Mahmud’s body, went into her arm and out again. She says she remembers feeling there was something “happening with my body but I wasn’t sure what.” She was too focussed on her daughter to be sure of anything else. “I was saying ‘Sabeen talk to me, give me some indication that you can hear what I am saying.’ Even though I knew that she had gone, somewhere there was a glimmer of hope.”

Sabeen Mahmud is brought to the National Medical Centre, on April 24, 2015 after being shot | Courtesy National Medical Centre

She herself was taken to the Aga Khan University Hospital for treatment. “Next morning, I started demanding that I wanted to go home. I was told that Sabeen’s body was being kept in a morgue and I thought she should be put on the way to her last journey immediately.” With a bullet still lodged in her back, she left the hospital to bury her only child.

When Mahenaz Mahmud learnt that the police had arrested some educated young men for carrying out the murder, it was a shock to her, almost a betrayal of some of her most closely held convictions. “I felt terrified. I am a person who teaches my students that we all have our biases and that we put people into boxes because we don’t have time to find out about each and every person.”

In the third week of June, T2F organised a qawwali session to celebrate her daughter’s birthday posthumously. While observing the audience from the back of the room, she couldn’t shake off a nagging thought. “I was looking at the young boys in the audience and wondering, ‘So what are they thinking? What is really going on in their head?’ Normally I wouldn’t have thought that about young people. I would be happy that all kinds of young people come to T2F. Now I am really scared about how these young men’s minds can be messed with.”

The senselessness of the murder is difficult for her to process. “I want to ask them, why? What happened to you? What was it that bothered you about Sabeen? Was it something she stood for? Did you just want to make an example out of her? Did you think that taking a human life is such a small matter? But then I realise that these people think very differently. Their paradigms are different. Their schemas are different.”

Mourners at Mahmud’s funeral | Arif Mahmood, White Star
Mourners at Mahmud’s funeral | Arif Mahmood, White Star

In another part of Karachi, sitting in her home studio, architect Marvi Mazhar, one of Mahmud’s closest friends, says: “I always knew. I always thought that if someone gets to her, it’ll be someone educated. Sabeen had to deal with a lot of hate speech, and from people who were all educated. They used to write, they used to tweet, they were all very tech-savvy. Every time she’d complain that these young bachas, I wish I could have chai with them, talk to them.”

Mazhar recalls an incident from last November. At the Creative Karachi Festival organised by T2F, the azan went unnoticed for a few moments in the hubbub and a young man angrily demanded that the music be stopped instantly. “Sabeen went up to the guy, took him aside and spoke to him for a while; a little later, he actually brought flowers for her by way of apology. There was this strange magic about her,” she says with a wistful smile.

In the days leading up to her death, Mahmud was particularly restless, says Mazhar. On Tuesday, April 21, there was a get-together of friends at Mazhar’s place where Mahmud was “a little agitated”. Mazhar heard her saying to someone on the phone, “If we are not going to do it now, then we won’t do it because after that I am leaving for London and I don’t have time.” She assumes this was about the talk on Baloch missing persons. “Her heart was not into this talk, mainly because she had so much going on otherwise. She believed in it, she believed that the Baloch must be given a platform. But, I felt, judging from the conversations I have had with her, she was waiting for a signal, waiting for someone to tell her not to do this.”

A sturdy metal barrier bars entry into a rough stretch at the end of Beaumont Road in Karachi’s Civil Lines. Only a few street lights illuminate the area; that, along with the dilapidated condition of the road, is perhaps deliberate, designed to make things a little more difficult for terrorists looking to target the CID headquarters that looms up on the right, after the barrier. They did exactly that on November 10, 2010, killing at least 17 people and injuring over 100 in a massive truck bombing. Access inside the CID premises now lies behind a raft of concrete barriers, designed to minimise the possibility of another attack.

Raja Umar Khattab, Senior Superintendent Police, strides into his office at around 10.30pm after taraweeh prayers. A stocky, barrel-chested man, he is wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with khaki pants, rolled up at the bottom and rubber slippers. He speaks in rapid-fire sentences; names of terrorists roll off his tongue like those of old acquaintances. Several phone calls interrupt conversation; a senior official has misplaced his cell phone and Khattab is trying to get it traced. “Sir, don’t worry. I’ll make sure it is back with you soon,” he says reassuringly.

As the CID’s lead investigator, Khattab is flushed with pride over the recent arrest of what he calls a major terrorist cell. He has no doubt the police under him have the men who killed Mahmud and committed the Safoora Goth massacre, apart from various other crimes.

Khattab believes it was a failed romantic relationship that sowed the seed for Aziz’s radicalisation.

The Sindh Rangers, too, have made a separate claim of arresting a mastermind of the attack on Ismaili Shias. “He has nothing to do with Safoora Goth incident; he never did,” says Khattab, shaking his head vigorously, when asked about the man arrested by the Rangers and reportedly linked to the detained office-bearers of the Fishermen’s Co-Operative Society. “When you go to a court to seek remand, you put in extra things. Otherwise it can get difficult to get a remand,” is how he explains the reason for the claim made by the Rangers.

More importantly, Aziz’s claim about his allegiance with IS meets with a similarly dismissive response. “We just finished a 16-day joint investigation but we have not established any direct or indirect link between him and Daesh. Al-Qaeda’s tentacles, however, touch him in multiple ways. We are sure he is with al-Qaeda,” says Khattab.

“And why should it be so surprising that these terrorists are so educated? There were always educated people in al-Qaeda. Educated people don’t join TTP. It is the madrasa-educated ones who join TTP. They have the desire for jihad but these [educated jihadis] are ideologues. They envision grander things,” he adds. And for that reason, Khattab states, they are far more dangerous: They can be anywhere — the shopping mall, the university, saying their prayers beside you.

Khattab believes it was a failed romantic relationship that sowed the seed for Aziz’s radicalisation. “He became disillusioned with worldly pursuits,” says the police officer. “When he joined Unilever for an internship [in the second half of 2010], he met Aliur Rehman – alias Tony – who was also working there.” Tony, a member of Dr Israr Ahmed’s Lahore-based Islamic movement, Tanzeem-e-Islami, was to play a vital role in Aziz’s radicalisation, inspiring him to fight for a Muslim caliphate, says the police officer.

But it was Minhas, the police claim, who turned Aziz into what he has become. In Khattab’s words: “Saad says Tahir motivated him so much that he no longer has any fear of killing people. His role in targeted killings was that of the shooter; by my reckoning, he has killed about 20 people.”

CID officials maintain that the terrorist group of which Aziz was a member had split from a larger al-Qaeda formation eight to 10 months ago. “While Tahir is its askari (militant) commander, he in turn answers to Abdullah Yousuf, who is in Helmand, Afghanistan. The other group formed by this rupture is led by Haji Sahib, Ramzi Yousef’s older brother,” says Khattab. He believes the crime spree by Aziz’s group, which hadn’t yet given itself a name, was aimed at raising its profile within the terrorist fraternity so that someone “owned” it.

Tracking down the group, he says, was not easy. They operated under aliases, did not use mobile phones and, instead, employed a Wi-Fi-based application called Talkray to communicate. The CID first picked up their trail sometime in 2014 through some men who were in prison, Khattab says. Based on the information obtained from them – he does not quite elaborate how but only says “we did some working on them” – the police picked up two former Karachi University students who had joined al-Qaeda through contacts at the campus and whose job was to maintain the organisation’s website. “We soon figured out that there is a network of educated al-Qaeda members in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and other areas around Karachi University,” he says.

Photo by Essa Malik, White Star
Photo by Essa Malik, White Star

The clues led the police to a sports teacher at Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology, who had set up a laboratory in his house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal where, along with his son and nephew, he used to teach young men to assemble Improvised Explosive Devices. The police also found a lot of written material that led them to conclude that a large al-Qaeda group was active in Karachi. “We found out it had two wings — one askari and one daawati.” The police do not divulge whether or not they have arrested and interrogated the teacher or, for that matter, any other details about his identity and whereabouts.

While investigating the people arrested earlier, the police learnt that Minhas was the group’s commander. Born in a village in the Jhelum district of Punjab, Minhas is a resident of Kotri, near Hyderabad, and has been in and out of police’s hands since 2007. According to an official source, one looking very closely into the massacre of Ismaili Shias, Minhas, (a matriculate, according to this source), had a thriving poultry business in Kotri at one point. He is also, says the same source, rabidly anti-Shia and has been a member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned organisation involved in hundreds of acts of sectarian and religious terrorism.

Khattab and his team of investigators describe Minhas as a highly sophisticated militant, with his own signature style. They claim to have discovered important similarities in the terrorist activities he has carried out: in all of these, silencer-fitted imported Glock, Caracal and Stoeger pistols are used; he and his associates always hit their targets in the head. “By the time the Safoora Goth massacre happened, we had gathered lots of little clues,” says Khattab.

Some other clues materialised in September 2014 after a suspect named Amir Abbas managed to escape during an encounter with the police but his wife was injured and arrested. “We found plenty of incriminating material at his house and worked on it quietly from September [2014] to April [2015], matching and cross matching the evidence,” says Khattab.

This finally led to the arrest of Minhas and his associates, including Aziz. “When we recovered their laptops, their browsing history helped us connect them to other cases. “Had we been even one day late, all these boys would have left Karachi for Quetta, Waziristan etc.”

The CID officers also show what they call a hit list. These are A-4 size prints, carrying no information about their senders and receivers, but complete with photos and addresses of the targets, which include naval officers, intelligence agency personnel, police officers, showbiz personalities, journalists, workers of non-government organisations and three fashion designers. In some cases, the prints also carry details of the targets’ daily routine. When asked why the group wanted to target fashion designers, Aziz is quoted by Khattab to have said, “You kill three. No one will design sleeveless clothes again.”

Sabeen Mahmud speaks at a talk titled "Unsilencing Balochistan: Take Two" on April 24, 2015 | Courtesy T2F

At a distance from the police’s neatly tied narration, events take a rather mysterious turn. A former academic at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) who once taught Aziz, and who has since moved to Europe, recalls his student as “being extremely close to [an intelligence agency]”. In April 2014, this academic needed a police clearance report for some work. Having tried unsuccessfully for a week to obtain it, he asked Aziz for help. “He told me it was no problem, and that he could get it for me in 10 minutes. He was wrong; it took him an hour.” This alleged link, however, could not be verified through any other source.

Aziz’s purported reasons for having targeted Mahmud are also rather mystifying. Many Pakistanis, weary of having their lives held to ransom by rampant militancy, make anti-Taliban statements the way she made at the talk on the Karachi situation. And on February 14 this year, Aziz’s restaurant had a promotional offer targeted at customers and their “loved ones” — complete with the image of two hearts placed right next to each other. Isn’t this just another way of saying pyaar ho jaane do? His account of planning her murder also mixes up a few details. He states that Tony was unable to spot Mahmud’s car outside T2F between the February 13 talk on Karachi and the April 24 discussion on Baloch missing persons. (Mahmud did leave Karachi on February 19 for an overseas trip and returned on March 5. She briefly went out of the country again from March 25 to April 5.) Between her arrival from abroad and her assassination, there were at least five events at T2F and she was also attending to her office work at T2F every day during this period. Can, then, her murder precisely on the day of Unsilencing Balochistan: Take Two be seen as purely a coincidence?

A qawwali session held at T2F on Mahmud’s birthday posthumously | Arif Mahmood, White Star
A qawwali session held at T2F on Mahmud’s birthday posthumously | Arif Mahmood, White Star

Whatever the motivation behind his actions – whether he is serving the ends of as-yet unknown masters or assuaging his own desire to ‘right’ society’s moral compass – his confession suggests that he is part of a cell carrying out orders issued by a central command structure. This is particularly evident in the Safoora Goth incident: an attack of that size and precision cannot be carried out by a motley group of like-minded individuals.

While Aziz has been singing in police custody, his confession may not stand the test of a trial in a court of law. Confessions before the police or a JIT, or any executive authority for that matter, have no legal standing. “[Only] a confession before a judicial magistrate has legal sanctity because a judge is an independent authority,” says Karachi-based lawyer Faisal Siddiqi. “A judge is not part of the investigation so he has no vested interest [in its outcome].”

Without independently verifiable evidence, it is virtually impossible to successfully prosecute any accused on the basis of their confessions alone. Ajmal Pahari, an alleged target killer, for instance, was acquitted in 2011 notwithstanding his on-camera confession of having committed over 100 murders. (He was soon re-arrested on additional murder charges, however, and is currently behind bars.) Aziz shows little concern about his trial and punishment when asked about his future. “What are my plans now?” he says completely unfazed, and laughing slowly. “We’ll go to prison, but we’ll break out of there. Then, we’ll make plans.”

Continue reading our two-part cover story: Revisiting a confessional jigsaw: Is Saad Aziz guilty as charged?

This article was originally published in the Herald's July 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald's print edition.

Comments (87) Closed

Mudassar Jul 31, 2015 12:41pm

In Pakistan religion is mandatory, not optional. No room for secular values, only room for the freedom provided by local mullahs.

Usman Jul 31, 2015 01:07pm

Wonderfully written and dissected - you guys are setting the gold standard for investigative reporting!

AtifM Jul 31, 2015 01:39pm

I simply need to say that the authors has written profoundly well and good. Hats off to you

m m amin Jul 31, 2015 01:57pm

The investigation must also focus on who had motivated these killers and they should also be prosecuted.

someone Jul 31, 2015 02:07pm

Kamalludin has left lums long before. Please make correction

Nazir Mirani Jul 31, 2015 02:20pm

She was a great lady ........

Jeeves_gg Jul 31, 2015 02:38pm

Wow, This is a superbly put account. Let me say from across the border that I am scared witless not because of the happenings of extreme violence but the casualness and ease with which these young people are able to execute their plans!

A. A. Jul 31, 2015 02:40pm

Why did you have to ruin such an excellent article by trying to connect the agencies with the murder in the end? Seems like they are really trying hard to establish some sort of link with the establishment, for reasons I do not understand frankly.

Fi Jul 31, 2015 02:47pm

What a messed up society! I'm a teacher and next time when I'll go into the class room I'll look into young fresh faces and try to find out whose gun and the bullet that comes out of it carries my name.SCARY!!

Vap Jul 31, 2015 02:51pm

Like it or not, they are going to do what they are saying. Its about the time to stop them forever before more innocent lose their lives. This whole story has so many loopholes which tells that these people are no ordinary people and not being controlled by ordinary goons.

M. Saeed Awan Jul 31, 2015 02:53pm

Who is she?

H Jul 31, 2015 03:29pm

Fantastic jobs you guys!

Najam Jul 31, 2015 03:43pm

So what if she was promoting liberal and secular values! Aren't these extremists promoting values diametrically opposed to Islam and that too in the name of Islam.

rehan Jul 31, 2015 03:55pm

@Mudassar So you DO acknowledge that one can either be secular or religious but not both . I am glad this is clear at least !

Roussou Jul 31, 2015 03:57pm

@M. Saeed Awan A human being who was murdered because she dared not to conform with somebody's views. Next it could be me or you.

Junaid Naqi Jul 31, 2015 06:31pm

Well, reading about coincident of murder day, I will say, Tony was reading SM tweets and would put as part of plan which would later diversifies investigators and mixed-up with Baluchistan. (God knows)

Imran Siddiqui Jul 31, 2015 08:15pm

A really good piece marred by reference to 'an intelligence agency' at the end. Rich people, specially when they own restaurants in Karachi are well connected with all sorts of law enforcement agencies. For these rich and connected people, including Saad Aziz, to get a report in one hour is nothing new or surprising.

In Pakistan most yuppies also claim connections with intelligence agencies and armed forces to further improve their status amongst friends.

Does the author want to connect, without evidence, intelligence agencies to the murder of Ms. Mahmood?

Xeric Jul 31, 2015 09:47pm

The surprising thing is that the entire 'investigation' is focused on the talk on 'Missing Persons' while the fact remains that her death/killers had nothing to do with the talk on Balochistan. She was (unfortunately) killed for other reasons, mentioned sparsely in the lede.

Mustafa Jul 31, 2015 09:49pm

Dogma vs dogma. Fake Islam against fake liberalism.

Talat Haque Jul 31, 2015 09:52pm

Such an insightful article ............ lighting the dark corners of the human soul

Adnan Aug 01, 2015 12:26am

Well finest of the pieces I have read. It is amazing when you find such in depth analysis of matters so important. However, I felt you left some questions for all the readers.

Adnan Aug 01, 2015 12:28am

@Fi well said and believe we are helpless to an extent. Such a brainwashes can be really lethal to anyone

ak Aug 01, 2015 12:55am

Pakistan indeed is a scary place !!

Zak Aug 01, 2015 01:42am

A disillusioned educated kid, who was looking for ultimate excitement of killing. But he needed a reason to convince himself and for that he took the cover of religion, distorted by the extremists. He became a killer on lose and available to the highest bidder. There is no link to intelligence agencies, as they would never allow the killing of Ismailis in Karachi. The saddest part is that they came from Kotri and killed someone from Karachi.

Kashif Aug 01, 2015 04:47am

@Najam And what good did that thing you mentioned bring to Pakistan? Are not many problems in Pakistan rooted in that thing?

Umer Salahuddin Aug 01, 2015 06:43am

No killer should be spared. If any of these will be released then they will do the same.

Flick Aug 01, 2015 08:19am

@M. Saeed Awan Sabeen Mahmud (سبین محمود‎) was a Pakistani human rights activist and social NGO worker. She was founder and director of the Karachi-based cafe The Second Floor (T2F). Mahmud wanted to challenge injustice and discrimination, and to encourage critical thinking. She founded Peace Niche, an organisation that provides a social platform for public good.

Ben Aug 01, 2015 10:39am

Sad thing is that our loss is immense. People like Sabeen are not born everyday and my heart goes out to her family and the families of Ismailis and other victims of this group. May you all rest in peace.

nadia hamdani Aug 01, 2015 11:41am

People who commit murder of those who promote secular ideas should be punished, they ought to learn to be tolerant, I strongly feel.

Ali Aug 01, 2015 07:45pm

When ever I read anything related to Saad Aziz, a close friend of mine comes to my mind. We studied together in university, where he used to be a jolly guy - enjoying his life and all.

As soon as he went back to his home town Karachi, we got to know that his father who was an official of Jamat-e-Islami has told him to keep a beard and stop watching movies, tv series etc.

He eventually stopped talking to me due to my 'liberal' and 'secular' thinking related to life and Islam. These days he is busy sharing Islamic content, invitation to conferences and other 'Islamic' events held at numerous madressas around Karachi.

It's just sad to see people go down the path of hardline radicalization unknowingly. It's like they are duped into it by others!

S O Aug 01, 2015 11:10pm

Naziha/Fahim: A very well written article contains actual information by talking to actual people involved with timelines. It takes us into the mindset of these criminals. In my opinion, this can't be an independent group, 'a group of like-minded individuals' don't buy imported glock pistols with silencers. There has to be a state behind this kind of activity.
The fact that he was from IBA, an educated, well-off person hits at the idea of crime thrives due to 'poverty and lack of education'. So people who are not educated and not well off are not necessarily more likely to commit crimes. Like Mahenaz Mahmud said, we put people in boxes because we don't have the time to know each person.

Shaheera Aug 02, 2015 01:14am

The authors have done a commendable service by doing this piece. Very authentic and reflects the amount of work you've put into this.

Vijay Aug 02, 2015 03:29pm

In the entire case, the role of CID team especially Raja Umer Khittab is incredible. We are proud of you.

M.umar Aug 03, 2015 11:42pm

"Man can be destroyed, but not be defeated"

xed Aug 04, 2015 02:02pm

imagine sabeen saying at 5:20 i dont think it is in the self interest of terrorists to come after us just yet... and the terrorists were right there probably smiling to themselves and saying... "Oh really?" Almost like a movie... scary chilling

Minahil Shahab Aug 04, 2015 09:45pm

Great piece! Dawn is the only bastion of principled journalism in this country.

celeste Aug 06, 2015 03:56pm

@Fi or the next time you enter the classroom you look at it as an opportunity to lead your students in a direction that would hopefully prevent them being misled. I strongly feel a great weight lies on the shoulders of teachers. They have such a powerful role to play.

kuamr May 12, 2016 06:30pm

As an old engineer, it bothers me that these killers were trained as engineers (so was Bin Ladin). Engineers are trained in critical thinking and rational thoughts. How can engineers be indoctrinated? Some one should investigate the universities they graduated. They are not teaching correctly.

saleem May 12, 2016 07:58pm

An incredible piece of work(this article). Thoroughly enjoyed it.

itrat khaliq May 12, 2016 08:09pm

A cold blooded killer, Even he doesn't know why he killed sabeen and other innocent people. Coward

ZA May 12, 2016 08:37pm

Failed in the life, achieved nothing so far, frustrated... No worries, Lets go and kill an unarmed woman. C'mon terrorits, grow up!

Atif Khan May 12, 2016 08:39pm

These murders take root from a conviction inside many of us that it is OK for someone to be killed for a different belief system or a trendy dress code. Every society has prejudices, but ours is very accepting of violence to stymie them.

Imran May 12, 2016 09:28pm

Excellent article except the reference to 'an intelligence agency'.

Mukul May 12, 2016 10:52pm

@M. Saeed Awan Find out more about the woman who had the courage to speak her mind in Pakistan I am not from Pakistan and even I know who she is May her soul rest in peace- she died speaking her truth

Mustafa May 13, 2016 12:21am

We all, Muslims or otherwise, must learn to coexist.

Sameer May 13, 2016 01:37am

@Imran makes a solid point to contemplate over though.

SYED HASSAN HASEEB May 13, 2016 02:09am

they were the worst people they killed so many people in the bus for nothing plus a very useful lady of our society.

Zak May 13, 2016 02:25am

@Mudassar totally disagree. Pakistan is a country that houses all kinds, mostly very good , but unfortunately it all houses the .01% absolute lunatics, rejects, who think that by killing people they will amount to something.

Zak May 13, 2016 02:26am

@m m amin it was the Mingaw guy along with the professor. Both in jail. Great job security establishment.

Zak May 13, 2016 02:28am

@A. A. Well said. They think by attacking the very agency that keeps these writers safe, they are being 'good journalists' In western eyes.

Zak May 13, 2016 02:36am

'A former academic at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) who once taught Aziz, and who has since moved to Europe, recalls his student as “being extremely close to [an intelligence agency]”.

And here is the answer , from Dawn News, to the insidious reference above;

RAWALPINDI: Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Thursday signed the death warrants of five "hardcore terrorists", said a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). No 1 on the list is Saad Aziz the murderer of Sabeen.

Ali May 13, 2016 02:49am

It's great to see journalism in such fine form. Gold standard this.

Nasir Soomro May 13, 2016 03:30am

Iam paralyzed to know the profile of murderer of Sabeen and am crying too.

Nasir Soomro May 13, 2016 03:31am

Iam paralyzed to know the profile of murderer of Sabeen and am crying too.

Pushtun Voice May 13, 2016 04:23am

This sentence just melted my heart. 'With a bullet still lodged in her back, she left the hospital to bury her only child.'

In time these terrorists will be forgotten in the dustbin of history but Sabeen will always be remembered as a star whose light gave hope to good people all over the world

Nisha May 13, 2016 05:24am

Being an Ismaili muslim myself and a fan of Sabin Mahmud, this very well written article shook me to the bones. Wishes of safety and peace for all Karachi dwellers. Karachi, a promising city of my past, what happened?

ashamed pakistani May 13, 2016 06:43am

Someone needs to control ISI as well. There are too many fingers pointing in their direction something is fishy. Also i know this comment will not be published. I am not anti military but being an Ex officer myself i know how they operate....

Tanvir May 13, 2016 08:19am

immagine if there were jobs in Pakistan for these young men. Perhaps all that would not happen, the problem is social. no one can fix it unless you provide living

sufyan May 13, 2016 09:14am

Why (Herald) is in so much love with T2F and Sabeen Mahmood. Although such murders are highly condemnable but what about other murders and misplaced people. Why is there not a series of writings about say recent killing of MQM worker in rangers custody. A number of Islamic scholars have been assassinated on streets of karachi. Who will ask justice for them ?

picture May 13, 2016 09:34am

Photo by Essa Malik, White Star ?

In order to protect innocent people of Baluchistan you don't need to promote sketches which do not meet the common standard of a Pakistani society. Not supporting the coward killers of Miss Mahmud but the other extreme often invites violence from immature mind.

In Western world it is perfectly fine to come out in the smallest of small dress but coming out in sleeping suit is considered very objectionable. Similarly there are some rules and norms in Pakistani society. Upholding these values has nothing to do with personal rights and freedom.

Tariq Khan May 13, 2016 10:31am

The "credit" of all this goes to Musharaf who by saying unconditional "yes" to the illegal and immoral demands of US after 9/11 saw the seeds of hatred and polarization of the society. But who cares, he earned millions and is enjoying a lavish life :(!!!

Deependra L Chumble May 13, 2016 10:33am

Simply no hope for Pakistan...

JB May 13, 2016 10:49am

@kuamr Technical knowledge like that of engineering rarely instills analytical thinking.

jumpstart May 13, 2016 10:52am

A compelling reading . The narrative leads in a clinical fashion to unfortunate convergence of two sets of values and the resultant effect on beholders of those values . A conflict in which the dead lives and the killer though living is actually dead . At the end though individuals and families suffer but its the society which pays the price for being passive to regressive forces...eyeopener for all. Sabeens story is inspiration

Ahsan May 13, 2016 10:55am

This is sad. The story they tell us isn't even clear and I wont believe what the LEAs tell us. The state of Pakistan must realize it has to undo the damage long term radicalization has done. The government must strive for secular values and tolerance for diverse views. May Sabeen rest in peace and I hope her killers are punished.

Doug May 13, 2016 11:17am

Sabeen's killers have been arrested and sentenced, then who killed Khurram Zaki???

Nida A May 13, 2016 11:36am

How many females in Pakistan talked as sensibly as she did? Watch the choice of words, the tone and body language. Its only a negligible percentage in this country.. What an irony that jahalat is reproducing at speed of light and rare educated minds are being sent to grave!

ANGEL May 13, 2016 11:36am

What a twist to the story. Its very simple the intelligence guys silenced Sabeen Mahmud. No dissent is allowed in Pakistan and any one raising voice is take care of. The is article is another implant by the intelligence to divert the actual perpetrators of the heinous crime. RIP Sabeen

Farah G May 13, 2016 12:10pm

It is the saddest thing to kill someone because they are "Sectarian" or hold "Liberal views", these are just buzz words for discontent, disillusioned, power hungry men and women to exert some form of control over their lives and explain why they did such terrible things. Islam has been mauled by these people, dissected and deformed from its true beautiful purpose - for there to be peace and harmony amongst all who practice it. This is not in the name of religion, this in the name of exerting power over those who do not agree with your views, murder never rights a wrong - it is the wrong that you can never go back from.

hurt May 13, 2016 12:51pm

What are my plans now?” he says completely unfazed, and laughing slowly. “We’ll go to prison, but we’ll break out of there. Then, we’ll make plans.”

Please hang him or exile him - no more killings no more deaths - no more of these heartless people

Pyar ko hojanay do - spread love & peace

hurt May 13, 2016 12:54pm

Jobs can fix these type of men - it's their family upbringing , he was well educated but nothing helped as his family didn't do anything to change him or help him. They are many out there brained washed we await our fates one by one who speaks up

Adeel May 13, 2016 02:07pm

What an utter waste of a human life this low life criminal is such a waste of human flesh , feel sorry for his family who would still believe that he was innocent if I would his father I would have put panda with my own hands

Haider May 13, 2016 02:45pm

Nice try but we all know who killed her because of the baluchistan connection.

nawab May 13, 2016 10:21pm

Nothing suprising for me, this is what mughals practiced, and after partition all of them converged in pakistan and few are left in india

MJay May 14, 2016 12:06am

The mention of "an intelligence agency" seems very forced. Why ruin a great piece of reporting with such bias?

Raj Patel Aug 22, 2016 03:05am

I don't understand what the lady said in the meeting that offended radicalized bigots cowards like killers. If they are so brave they should have faced her face to face.

Jawwad Aug 22, 2016 03:41am

Where are the parents of this misguided soul? Have our parents completely given up the role of parenting? Mind is a very fragile thing. I have young children and I was young once too so I know a mind can be molded easily. It is the job of parents to instill morality and ethical values in a child. The reliance on servants has to stop now and parents need to take control of their children. A child left alone is a child practically abandoned. God have mercy on his soul who does not even realize the uncounted loves he has destroyed.

imran Aug 22, 2016 04:59am

Sad Ending of great minds of Pakistan

Timely Aug 22, 2016 07:32am

This is a tragedy for a nation that emerged under one ideology. Authorities must realize the nature of disaster this nation is underway. When people are not educated correctly; they do it their own way and the results are out of control.

Amused Audience Aug 22, 2016 11:13am

A great article that helped us understand how human beings transform into monstrous evil.

A Pakistani Aug 22, 2016 11:32am

@A. A.

There are so many "strategic assets" that have turned against the state. Perhaps this is one more example.

A Pakistani Aug 22, 2016 11:37am


Because this special lady had many friends in the journalistic community.

Daily Ummat may bemoan the death of clerics. However would they mention Sabeen?

Bilal Berberi Aug 22, 2016 12:14pm

"There was not a moan, not a groan, not a whimper." The words that left my eyes flowing with tears. May you "Rest In Peace" as You left in peace!!

Sabeen Mahmud Aug 22, 2016 01:45pm

Good one. Keep it up. I'm lovin it.

Imtiaz Piracha Aug 22, 2016 02:22pm

Excellent report.

The Right Left Aug 22, 2016 02:23pm

You cant fix a person who has gone bonkers to the extent sadly these young men have. They are a threat to the society and the society has no obligation to keep a threat to itself alive to keep open the possibility that they come and attack another day.

Hang these men for the crime of taking innocent lives. They fully deserve it and the victims and their families full deserve the justice.

Then go on and find the source of radicalization of young men like these and ensure no one preaches a twisted version of any religion to any one.

MAH Aug 22, 2016 02:51pm

A very nice piece of journalism! It also makes me think that why do we only complain about the military dictators. It is really our society which has become a dictator, where people are free to demand from others to think and act to their own liking. All the people mentioned here who influenced the murderer are part of this system which has deep and wide roots. We can't catch and sentence the end product when the factory is still free to operate.