By Zia Ur Rehman and Amna Nasir Jamal
KARACHI – Gangs involved in a rash of daytime bank heists in Karachi are linked with banned militant outfits based in the tribal areas, security analysts and police officials say.“Various militant groups belonging to Kohat and Para Chinar are involved in the recent bank heists in Karachi,” Raja Umer Khattab, a senior police official who runs anti-militancy operations in the city, told reporters November 25.
Those militants are feared as skilled fighters, and their modus operandi includes giving guards or police little time to react, he said.
A few recent robberies are typical.
A bank in North Nazimabad, where on November 30, armed men “looted Rs. 5.2m (US $52,225) and (also stole) footage from the closed-circuit television(CCTV) cameras installed at the bank,” said Safdar Mashwani, an officer at the local police station.
Similarly, during a November 24 bank robbery in Soldier Bazaar, seven armed robbers escaped with Rs. 4.4m (US $49,265) and the CCTV footage, said Imtiaz Ahmed, an official at Soldier Bazaar police station.
Using a different strategy November 23, robbers snatched Rs. 4m (US $44,785) from a bank in Gulshan-e-Iqbal after taking the staff hostage, media reported.
As least 17 local banks have been robbed since January, with a total of more than Rs. 60m (US $672,000) taken, media have reported. In 2010, Karachi recorded 20 bank heists, up from 14 in 2009, according to Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) statistics.
Militant organisations linked with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are involved in the Karachi bank robberies, analysts agree.
“The militant groups have been facing a severe financial crisis and a shortage of funds in wake of the measures taken by Pakistani authorities to cut off their main source of income abroad, especially from Gulf states,” said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based security expert.
Militant organisations, the TTP in particular, have resorted to bank robberies to generate funds and replenish their diminishing resources, Ahmed said.
Extremists have been robbing banks for a generation, but the trend has spiked upward since 2009, Khattab said.
“This is an alarming situation (in) that the earnings of Pakistani people are being used to accomplish terrorist activities,” he said.
“During interrogation of some arrested robbers, we discovered that (they) were associated with the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (an al-Qaeda linked group),” he told Central Asia Online. “Their involvement in organised crime had increased recently, following a government ban on jihadi groups and the seizure of their bank accounts.”
The bandits mainly target local banks because of inadequate security measures, Karachi Additional Inspector General Ghulam Shabbir Sheikh said, adding that 12 different gangs are involved in the Karachi robberies.
“Most of the bank robberies take place owing to negligence of bank staffers and collusion by private security guards,” Sheikh told Central Asia Online.
The provincial government will soon approach the Central Bank for assistance with background checks of security employees, Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Hussain Wasan said.
“We are deeply concerned” about the growing number of bank robberies in which extremists have gotten jobs as security guards beforehand, Wasan said November 24 in Karachi.
Police have sent instructions to bank administrators on improving security.
“If a bank manager or the official in charge of security failed to provide concrete security, then he could be punished under the Punjab Shops and Establishment (Security) Ordinance of 1999 by one month in prison or a Rs. 15,000 (US $168) fine,” said Ahmad Raza Tahir, capital city police officer in Lahore. “Subsequent failure to comply with the extra security requirement could be punished by branch closure.”
Police arrested two men, identified as Umar Zaman and Sharif Khan Afridi, suspected of trying to rob a bank in the Aziz Bhatti police jurisdiction November 24, Sheikh said. Zaman and Afridi, both from Kohat, told interrogators they were involved in about 30 bank robberies, he added.
Law enforcement agencies also arrested suspected extremist gang leaders Nasir Hussain and Ghulab Shah in November 3 in Kohat and Para Chinar, respectively, media reported. They confessed to robbing at least five banks in Karachi, police said. They robbed many banks and habitually fled to their hometowns, police contend.
Three militants – including Shahid Khan, head of the Punjabi Taliban, an offshoot of the TTP – were killed during an operation in which police freed Riaz Chinoy, an abducted industrialist, in Karachi December 5. Those militants were involved in kidnappings for ransom and bank robberies, Khalid Abbassi, an anti-violent-crime cell officer, told Central Asia Online.
“Law enforcement alone is seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem,” said Dr. Muhammad Hafeez, professor and director of the Institute of Social & Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore.
“They must frequently implement solutions in partnership with other responsible private and public bodies, including other government agencies, non-governmental organisations, private businesses, public utilities, community groups and individual citizens,” he added.
“A (community) policing philosophy promotes and supports organisational strategies to address the causes and to reduce the fear of crime and social disorder through problem-solving tactics and police-community partnerships,” he told Central Asia Online.
Responsible citizens should consider what their community can do to help police with the problem, he suggested.