Karachi garment factory fire Pakistan
People gather at the site of burnt garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, September 12, 2012. Fires broke out at two factories in Pakistan, killing more than 260 people. Image Credit: AFP files

Islamabad: The Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) report on the 2012 Karachi factory fire, that was finally made public on Monday, has termed the incident an act of “terrorism” and held the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responsible for it. Around 259 workers were burnt alive and hundreds injured in the multi-storey building of the Ali Enterprises garment factory on September 11, 2012.

In a chilling revelation, the report claimed that the factory was set on fire for not paying extortion money of up to Rs250 million (Dh552,294) and that leaders of Karachi-based political party MQM — mainly Hammad Siddiqui and Rehman Bhola — were involved in the crime.

The 25-page JIT report, available with Gulf News, concluded that the “factory fire was a planned sabotage/terrorist activity and not an accidental fire” carried out “due to refusal to pay extortion (Bhatta) of Rs20 million and partnership in factory profits by factory owners to [MQM] office-bearers.”

The investigation is based on multiple eyewitness accounts and technical reports. The fire, it said, was unnatural and had multiple origins simultaneously. A Punjab Forensic Science Agency report claimed it was an “arson” and there were “no signs of electrical short circuit”. The fire spread over a large area due to combustible material present on the premises.

Names of those involved in arson

Describing the Baldia factory fire as one of the “goriest incidents in the history of Karachi” the JIT recommended withdrawal of the previous FIRs, citing “unprofessionalism” and filing of new FIRs under terrorism act and including the names of Rehman Bhola, Hammad Siddiqui, Zubair Charia, Omer Hassan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and four other unknown associates.

Eyewitness account

The report includes the account of Muhammad Mansoor, former contractor at Ali Enterprises, who told the investigators that “MQM also influenced hiring and firing at the factory” and MQM activists also worked in the factory. After MQM demanded extortion money of up to Rs250 million, Mansoor was quoted as saying: “When I told him the owners cannot pay such a huge amount, he (Bhola) remained adamant, saying he would not take anything less than Rs20 crore [Rs200 million] threatening of dire consequences.”

On the fateful day, factory workers said Zubair and Waseem Delhi (both MQM activists), along with four unknown people near, gathered near the warehouse where the fire was raging. They tossed some plastic bags in different directions and “within five to ten seconds fire erupted and all of them rushed out of the warehouse” reads the report.

What the report concluded:

1. The factory fire was a planned sabotage/terrorist activity and “not an accidental fire”. It was carried out due to refusal to pay extortion money of Rs200 million.

2. The incident was handled from the beginning in a way to “benefit the offenders” rather “victims of the crime” for some “motive and gains”.

3. The first information report (FIR) did not mention extortion, which JIT considers “element of prime and critical importance”. The lodging of FIR suffered heavily from “tremendous influence” both “internal and extraneous”.

4. The accused absconders should be brought back to the country, arrested, their passports be cancelled and names be put on no-fly list (ECL).

5. The 1,000 square-yard property in Hyderabad, purchased from extorted money, should be transferred back to factory owners.

6. New laws and safety procedures need to be put in place to prevent such terrorist activities, threats and extortions.

7. All witnesses must be provided protection.

Police reforms are crucial

The report is highly critical of the role of police investigators in the Baldia fire case. “The gory act of Baldia Factory Fire was a glaring example of police inefficiency in dealing [with] and investigating this high-profile incident in right directions without any fear and favour,” the investigators noted.

The JIT was of the view that it (police investigation) showed “classic police failure in ascertaining not only the truth, but also in booking and apprehending the real culprits”. The incident, it said, indicated “how police lodged a motivated FIR” and concluded that ‘fear and favour’ were dominating factors throughout. 
The JIT recommended introducing police reforms to avoid the recurrence of such catastrophic investigative failures in the future.

Second JIT report claims Uzair Baloch involved in killing of 198

Sindh government has made public three high-profile joint investigation team (JIT) reports by July 6, including the Baldia factory fire and the Uzair Baloch report.

The second JIT report claimed that Lyari ganglord Uzair Baloch confessed to killing 198 people during gang wars and ethnic conflicts in Sindh province, mainly in Karachi. 
Most of the murders were politically and ethnically motivated and the victims included political workers, members of ethnic and religious groups, intelligence and police officers. 
Earlier, during investigation, it was revealed that Baloch made several foreign trips on an Iranian passport. Reports also claim that many members of his close family are settled in Iran.