People & society

Safoora Goth convict: The new radical

Published Jun 25, 2016 11:37am


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Saad Aziz | Illustration by Aan Abbas
Saad Aziz | Illustration by Aan Abbas

April was the cruelest month for many in Karachi a year ago. On April 16, 2015, Debra Lobo – the vice-principal for student affairs at the Jinnah Medical and Dental College – was attacked by two unidentified gunmen as she made her way to the campus. Eight days later, on April 24, Sabeen Mahmud – activist and founder of The Second Floor café – was shot dead after conducting a panel discussion on Balochistan. Then on May 13, eight gunmen opened fire on a bus in Safoora Goth, targeting and killing 45 members of the Ismaili community. All these attacks and others orchestrated around the same time were linked to one man: Saad Aziz.

Aziz confessed to the crimes and others (including bank robberies, targeting law enforcement agencies and grenade attacks on co-education schools) in a videotape confession while in custody. Eyewitness accounts at Safoora Goth and at an attack on a Bohri mosque on March 20, 2015, pinpointed Aziz as one of the culprits.

Aziz has now been awarded a death sentence along with four other men. An Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement on May 12, 2016, stated: “These five convicts were active members of al-Qaeda." It went on to add that the convicts admitted to multiple charges against them before a military court.

Also read: Anatomy of a murder - The investigative report on Sabeen Mahmud's murder

Aziz's family has raised objections to the way the trial was handled. “It was a total blackout. We had no idea of what happened during the four months when he was with the army. We only came to know about the sentencing through the ISPR press release which says that he was tried in 10 cases, but we still have no details about them,” a family member tells the Herald.

Aziz had studied at Pakistan’s finest institutions. He graduated from the Institute of Business Administration in 2011 and interned at a multinational organisation as part of his degree. Soon after graduating, he started working at his family’s restaurant in the Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Housing Society. Despite his academic credentials and the security and material comfort of a middle-class background, Aziz felt an inner restlessness. On his personal Facebook page, taken down a few days after his arrest, Aziz’s cover photo portrayed Heath Ledger’s Joker with the tagline “why so serious?” — ironically an American pop culture reference, albeit a subversive one, but it says something about the ideological muddle in the minds of the affluent radicalised.

By his own admission, Aziz’s radicalisation began in 2009, following a visit to Saudi Arabia with his family. His friendship with an al-Qaeda operative, who was heading the group’s recruitment wing in Pakistan, led to Aziz joining the group at the end of 2010. In 2011, he travelled to Waziristan for training where, he says, he was part of a segment headed by Ahmad Farooq, deputy head of al-Qaeda in the subcontinent. At that time, Aziz was limited to managing media duties and online jihadist publications.

We know all this information through his videotape confession — but this is the extent of our knowledge. Aziz’s family contests many of the things said in it, which they believe were spoken under duress.

Also read: What does Saad Aziz's family say about his involvement in terrorism?

“While in Central Jail, we were allowed to meet him for half an hour every Friday,” says the family member. However, they were not permitted to meet him during the time that he spent in Malir Cantonment (January 13 till May 18, 2016) at the time of his trial. The family has since met Aziz twice after his return to Central Jail in May.

During his four-month detention in cantonment, Aziz told his family he was kept in handcuffs and his face was covered with a cloth. The only times these were removed was for eating and for going to the bathroom. Aziz was also not allowed to appoint a defence counsel of his choice, despite his family lodging a constitutional petition.

“We will try our level best to make sure that he gets a fair trial,” the family member says, when asked if they would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. “We are pretty certain that he did not get a fair trial in the military court. Most blatant of the facts is that he says he has made no confession or signed any document to this effect during the trial, whereas the ISPR claims that he has admitted to all the crimes he has been accused of.”

Whether Aziz is the mastermind behind the attacks or a pawn in a greater game, we will never know. Given the secrecy surrounding his trial – and for that matter, all trials held by military courts – his role in and around multiple terror attacks will remain as ambiguous as other details of his life since graduation.

This originally appeared in the Herald's June 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.

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Comments (51) Closed

Pakistani_hero Jun 25, 2016 12:18pm

"During his four-month detention in cantonment, Aziz told his family he was kept in handcuffs and his face was covered with a cloth. The only times these were removed was for eating and for going to the bathroom."?? He killed so many people and he is complaining?? Hang this guy and his supporters!

Mudassir Jun 25, 2016 01:46pm

This is shady on so many levels. All arrested must be given the right to legal representation at all times. It is very much possible the statements obtained from him were obtained under duress. Following due process of law like civilised societies is MUST so these ambiguities are not created.

Sameer Jun 25, 2016 02:56pm

My sympathies with the families of both sides... victims and the accused... who have lost their loved ones to terrorism. Truly the chess pieces are in play for a greater game. I now find some solace in thinking that once this game is over; the king and the pawn will go back in the same box.

Pakistan Zindabad Jun 25, 2016 03:36pm

Never in any circumstances i am in his favour of this guy. Terrorism is Terrorism! What i want is trial for each culprit and everyone corrupt with Justice in Power. Sadly this is a joke in our political class. And crimes are far and too higher then Aziz did.

Farooq Khan Jun 25, 2016 03:38pm

a civilized nation give chance to alleged to defense himself

Muhammad Arif Jun 25, 2016 03:53pm

@Mudassir Dear Sir, Criminals do not have civil rights, Think of those families who are on the roads because of these type of people and what to talk of justice in Pakistan, can our civil courts deliver justice. The convict should be hanged publically.

Kamal Pasha Jun 25, 2016 04:19pm

How do expect to interview the killer of so many innocents? In the coffee shops of five star hotels? All the hanged culprits have claimed mistreatment by the authorities during the introgations.

Superbug Jun 25, 2016 04:34pm

My all sympathies are with innocent peoples who were victimized in barbarous attacks so called terrorism. In mostly academic institutions through some extremist group, minds of some poor distracted students are hijacked but family don't know about such situations. Such sick minded with little knowledge group of people washed the brain then play with their minds for whatever purposes. Family of such students are unaware of such mental psyche and scenarios going on in his academic years. So for sake of humanity we should have to confess our mistakes then pull out the root cause of every barbarous issues. All extremist and radical religious groups must be ban or supervised.

Jadugar Jun 25, 2016 04:52pm

This Guy and his family is complaining about his rights being denied, what about the rights of those he murdered in cold blood. Does he really think that God will appreciate his deed.?

Zubaida Khan Jun 25, 2016 04:56pm

@Sameer conspiracy theories give no one comfort. The reason for secrecy is clear. Not all members of his group were captured. There were two witnesses who were targeted and killed after these guys were arrested.

The investigation did not start after the last murder it was ongoing for over two years. These criminals were already on the radar. With the safoora goth massacre there were witnesses lest to clearly identify them. The investigation closed.

TOOBA Jun 25, 2016 05:26pm

@Pakistani_hero Dear Pakistani Hero!

No doubt, such a criminal should be hanged, but should not be given punishment as tough as having his face covered for 4 months. Cover your face for one day and you will realize how cruel punishment it is.

Americans also did exactly the same thing with the criminals in Guantanamo Bay and the whole world including Pakistanis made a tremendous hue and cry. Today, when the same criminals reached our doors in Karachi, we are considering our severe punishments correct. Americans were wrong and we are right. How ironic it is!

When Americans lost their temper and the power of reason and justice out of extreme anger and grief, they were wrong. The same thing has happened to the jailers in Pakistan today, and we are right. What difference is left between the angry mob in Sialkot who killed 2 brothers and the trained jailers?

Saad should be hanged immediately. This is a reasonable punishment. I hope we will not lose power of reason on our side.

TOOBA Jun 25, 2016 05:40pm

@Muhammad Arif

Dear Arif!

Criminals also have rights. Whether or not they should be hanged publicly, their crimes and trials procedures should be made public. I am not against military courts, but the disease with military courts is that it tries to make every thing secret and sacred because of which its credibility is put at risk.

As for hanging such criminals publicly, such an act will arouse sympathies for them. Besides, what difference will be left between trained officials and untrained Taliban who punished criminals publicly? In other words, you are saying that we should turn into Taliban.

Emotions such as anger has no place in the domain of justice. Reason has.

Ahmed Jun 25, 2016 06:09pm

@Mudassir : do u think the most civilized country America is doing the same? Doctor Afia's case is a very clear example...They have their own sources and proofs..

Feroz Jun 25, 2016 06:55pm

Everyone is entitled to a free trial, which means they are allowed to appoint their own lawyer to defend their case. It seems no such procedure was followed not only in this case, but many others. While this gentleman Saad Aziz may have been involved in one of these cases, he has definitely been fixed in the remaining. Chances of his being involved in the Sabeen Mahmud case are close to zero. His family must file a petition in the Supreme Court and ask for presentation of all records.

Agha Ata Jun 25, 2016 07:01pm

The unacceptable plight of Pakistan, politically and economically, the heartlessness of the politicians, inefficiency of senior officers, corruption at every level conditioned some men like Saad Aziz to do what he did.

IBN E ASHFAQUE Jun 25, 2016 07:24pm

@Muhammad Arif How can you be sure who is the criminal without a trial?

Mudassir Jun 25, 2016 07:45pm

@Muhammad Arif In which civilised societies do defendants not have rights to legal representation? Nobody can be labelled a criminal until they are convicted in a fair trial. A trial is only fair if they are given their rights to have legal representation. Even those accused of rape and murder are convicted by following due process of law. You cannot take away these rights by highlighting the gravity of the offence. You could end up convicting an innocent and the actual offenders may be roaming free.

Mudassir Jun 25, 2016 07:52pm

@Ahmed Are you saying America is the most civilised country in the same sentence where you mention the heinous treatment of Afia?

That is not an example for us to follow.

Mudassir Jun 25, 2016 07:56pm

@Pakistani_hero You know he killed so many people because you believe he was convicted in a fair and public trial?

Sana Jun 25, 2016 08:50pm

Justice defines the civility of a nation. There should be a fair trail conducted for the accused and he should be given rights to legal representation. Only at that cost would the people of Pakistan know if he was a pawn in this piece of the puzzle.

ZULFIQAR Jun 25, 2016 09:39pm

Let me tell to Aziz Family He was identify by Person who were Survived in attacked Magistrate Prade was done & I was identify by 5 different Survive person Even Magistrate include his Own Men So Survivor can do mistake on identitication But again it was Truely Iddentify Aziz family was influential & They were doing their Extreme best to Prove NON Guilty Kindly Note First case was going through ATC court & Not through Miltary Court NO Public Prosecutor was ready to handle because of Security Concern even Public Prosecutor was Getting Threat of their Life

Thanks to Miltary Court that Henions Criminal was Hangged

Raj Patel Jun 25, 2016 11:18pm

@Jadugar You are the Judge and declared him the culprit. Period. No need to have defense argument as military court has declared him terrorist. The same military declared that they won 1965 and 1971 war with India and still do not agree that they have lost the war.

SaneVoice Jun 25, 2016 11:38pm

What Dawn wants to prove? This is second dubious publication. Dawn is trying to convince the audience that the trial is not fair and the convict requires justice. We all know that how criminals escape conviction in the civil courts. May I dare to doubt that this publication has somehow a connection with the CJ's son abduction. The trial will be taken to the civil courts and the judiciary will be influenced.

KYA Jun 25, 2016 11:47pm

@Pakistani_hero Aziz must be hanged in public and the killers of Amjad Sabri should have the same fate.

SHAK Jun 26, 2016 12:15am

what goes around comes around you did it you have to pay you should have cried while you doing this now don't cry

ZULFIQAR Jun 26, 2016 12:28am

@Sana Do not agree at All Look to reality Public Prosecutor was Threat by Aziz fellowmen means Aziz & his Team are not Right for Societies Realty says he was given Time to proceed case on Civil ATC Court & for 8 months nothing happend our Judiciary System on Paper Look Great But Practically its Failed Current SHC Chief Son is being Kidnapped & even he is helpless

Its Failed System & Strong Institution ARMY can handle & let them work

Aziz Jun 26, 2016 12:30am

This highlights everything that is wrong with military courts. The point of court is to come to justice through facts. There should be transparency in the judicial process. The issue is not about being soft with terrorists but approaching the issue as an advanced society would. we need to hold military courts to the same standard as our regular courts. military did not create Pakistan. The people did. The men in khakis need to learn what providing justice means. Secret justice is no justice. Plenty of military tribunals over the last century conducted sham trials from Argentina to eastern block soviet states to Iraq,Syria and more. They also argued that security trumped all else. This is a false argument and we need to reject it too.

tipu Jun 26, 2016 12:33am

Strange are those who are determining criminals without a fair trial. The difference between accused and criminal is lost to general public. It shows how warped our sense of justice is. Even after his hanging, there will be a significant doubt if the real criminal is hanged or not. The whole idea of military courts and secret trials is the mockery of justice.

reality bites Jun 26, 2016 12:48am

Did this family know whether Aziz went to Waziristan. Did they see him turning radical in his views and change. If they did, then why defend him. They should come clean and acknowledge his crime.

SHAK Jun 26, 2016 12:51am


Najam Jun 26, 2016 01:23am

It is sad that Pakistani law enforcement agencies can't even prosecute hard core criminals. Pakistan need to build and reform its criminal justice system.

Ali Vazir Jun 26, 2016 03:19am

Nothing but sickening from training in Waziristan, murders, confessions, military court trials, constitutional petition. This damn law enforcement setup cannot even do proper investigation and trial of a held hardcore criminal. Shameful, disgusting. We all expected a fair trial, removal of most of the ambiguities and penetration and busting of real dogs behind the scenes. But that seems never to happen; esp as long as so-called progressive Political parties even keep funding terrorist manufacturing madressahs (seminaries).

Rafay Jun 26, 2016 03:30am

Military courts are quite shady in the way they operate. If nothing else, he deserves a fair trial

khalid pathan Jun 26, 2016 04:05am

He is not worthy of this article in the Herald. Such cold blooded murders and haters of humanity deserve death by hanging.

AlFatmi Jun 26, 2016 04:27am

Eye witnesses who were on the bus pinpointed him. So let's not initaite any human right discussion here. Remember the innocent Justice delayed is Justice denied.

Dani Jun 26, 2016 04:29am

From media we came to know Saad Aziz is culprt person, from schooling to graduation a person have best finest institution, from that institute a person mindset can nt b ezily change for killing. This is very alarming situation for us. either he did it or not, fair trial is the legal right of every Pakistani.

Saleem Ahmed Jun 26, 2016 06:48am

@Muhammad Arif Really? You mean to saw the law makers don't think the law should be applied to law breakers? What sort of an ideology is this? So when the Army broke our law/constitution, should they be hanged as well because they too destroyed so many families AND they did break the law...

The only way forward is to give the 'culprit' a fair trial. If he is a terrorist, show proof to the court and hang him. Otherwise let him free and catch the real culprits

Sameer Jun 26, 2016 07:28am

@Zubaida Khan There is some truth in your fiction and some fiction in your truth; you are unaware of dawn's investigation that Aziz once helped get one of his professor's police certificate on urgent basis for immigration purposes. the professor narrates that he found his connections with police circles to be most cooperative. Besides, Aziz is just tip of the iceberg... commissions are setup in this country, inquiries held but are the vindictive truly served justice?

What is justice when rules are made and broken the same day to appease our masters. I have seen kids molested in my city... I have seen JIT naming the rich in killings of thousands of people...I have seen enough to NOT believe what is presented to the me on a silver platter. Its normal for you to believe everything you hear. Though I urge all to question everything. There is nothing wrong with agreeing with the writers point of view. Nor rejecting it...though rejection doesnt alter reality.

Zayn M. Jun 26, 2016 08:37am

@Muhammad Arif The accused has every right. He has the right to a far trial and he has the right to a legal counsel of his choice. He has a right not to be tried by a Military court as he was not an employed by the Army. A person is accused till such time he is tried and found guilty by a competent court. While I have my most sincere sympathies with Sabeen Mahmud and other people that were killed we must not become part of killing people without due process. Sabeen was a friend of mine but we cannot kill some one without a confirmation that he is the one who actually killed her. Only a competent court can determine that, and not a Kangaroo court.

Zayn M. Jun 26, 2016 08:38am

The accused has every right. He has the right to a far trial and he has the right to a legal counsel of his choice. He has a right not to be tried by a Military court as he was not an employed by the Army. A person is accused till such time he is tried and found guilty by a competent court. While I have my most sincere sympathies with Sabeen Mahmud and other people that were killed we must not become part of killing people without due process. Sabeen was a friend of mine but we cannot kill some one without a confirmation that he is the one who actually killed her. Only a competent court can determine that, and not a Kangaroo court.

Maher USA Jun 26, 2016 08:51am

The thing is the real hard core killers know how to get away with it..... Why is it taking that long?

Misunderstood_patriot Jun 26, 2016 11:33am

What a pathetic piece! The author seems to have more sympathy for the convicted terrorist than the dozens of victims of Safoora Goth massacre and the rightly lamented heroine of Karachi Sabeen Mahmud. Instead of harping on the theme of "We are pretty certain he did not get a fair trial", the family should apologize to Ms. Sabeen Mahmud's mother who I believe is still mourning the loss of her bright and brave daughter. How about spending some time with the grieving families of Safoora Goth victims, rather than casting aspersions on the Honorable Courts of Pakistan. The criminal justice system in our country rarely delivers; in this case it did. Instead of being pleased with the fact that at least one among thousands of cases was solved, the author is portraying Saad Aziz as a victim of some 'greater game'! Very shocking and insulting to the victims' memory and their families.

Ali Raza-Brisbane Jun 26, 2016 03:05pm

We want justice not revenge.

The process-investigation, trial,punishment-should be fair, transparent.

Military courts don't fulfill those requirements.

Nisha Jun 27, 2016 12:54am

@TOOBA "Cover your face for one day and you will realize how cruel punishment it is". Good point, Tooba. Many of the women are killed by those labelled 'terrorists' and also those not labelled such, for 'not covering their face and arms'. Civil treatment of those who un-civil-ly' kill bus load of innocent citizens, hmmph, not so sure about that!

Fatzy Jun 27, 2016 01:17pm

All of those who think he deserves all that he's going through, what evidence do you have that he actually did all that he's being accused of? And that his confessions were not obtained under police torture which is so rampant in our justice system? anyone heard of 'innocent until proven guilty?' if the evidence is so solid and unshakeable then why convict him in secret military courts without giving him a right to defend himself?

Faraz Jun 27, 2016 03:07pm

Many a times i feel that our society has not only become intolerant itself but has also lost the morals/values of a JUST society. The barbaric events which unfolded this country has driven us in taking a barbaric pathway itself.

Values of Just society: An Innocent remains Innocent until proven guilty & the burden of proving guilt lies on the accuser. What we did? - The day Aziz was accused, Govt./Media labelled him Terrorist, creating an environment where serving Justice was never the purpose even if free/fair trial was taken place.

Whats wrong on familys part for demanding the fair/free trial? 24x7 on Media we see Govt. version of the case. Why cant the familys version be aired on Media? OR the accused been given proper access to Free Media/Lawyer?

Let us pause for a while & question our-self, Do we just want anyone to be hanged OR the perpetrators?

Mohammad Ayub Hussain Jun 27, 2016 05:42pm

@Mudassir Does anyone one think about the families who were kill by this fanatic. Where are the rights of the those who were killed.

Madiha Waris Qureshi Jun 27, 2016 08:05pm

This is confusing. Herald's in-depth piece on Aziz, The Anatomy of a Murder, reported his confession to the reporters while sitting in CID. Perhaps he recanted, but the report left little doubt to his owning up to the murders, with pride. Pasting excerpt below:

"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.”

S Zafar Iqbal Jun 30, 2016 03:45am

@Pakistani_hero : Only after a fair and open trial.

S Zafar Iqbal Jun 30, 2016 03:46am

@Muhammad Arif : Innocent until proven guilty.

S Zafar Iqbal Jun 30, 2016 03:57am

@Madiha Waris Qureshi . Pertinent information. Thanks for sharing. Our objective should be to ensure justice for all. A society cannot thrive and a nation cannot survive without justice. As they say: "No justice no peace."