KARACHI: Two policemen and two residents were killed in Lyari on Sunday in a day-long gunbattle between gangsters and the police. More than 60 people, including women and children, were wounded in crossfire when the two sides freely used guns, rockets and grenades.
Residents of Kalakot and Singhulane, the epicenter of the violence, remained confined to their homes. There were no reports of casualties suffered by the criminals or arrests made by the police, who claimed to have seized arms and ammunition from the gangsters.
Area residents and police said Saturday’s arrest of a couple of suspected gangsters in Mohammadi Colony, better known as Machhar Colony, after a shootout and an early morning raid on one of their hideouts on Sunday led to the ruthless retaliation by the criminals, who belonged to diverse gangs operating in Lyari but jointly fought against the police.
‘Head Constable Muhammad Asif, who belonged to the investigation section of the west zone, and constable Rehmat Zaman, who was posted at the Risala police station, lost their lives fighting against the gangsters,’ said Khadim Hussain Rind, the SP of the Lyari Town police. ‘They both were part of the police team that had entered the congested, crime-infested pockets to overpower the criminals.’
Though the police and the Civil Hospital Karachi received only the bodies of the two policemen, the police authorities confirmed that two area residents were killed in crossfire.
‘The victims have been identified as Naveed and Ahmed,’ said Ghulam Nabi Memon, the DIG of the south zone. ‘The number of the wounded is a little higher (than expected) due to the uninterrupted use of heavy arms by the gangsters.’
Sources at the CHK told Dawn that the hospital received about 64 wounded, including five women and three children. They said nine of them were admitted to the hospital while a large number of them were relieved after treatment.
‘We have received dead bodies of the two policemen only,’ said police surgeon Dr Hamid Padhiar. ‘The number of other casualties is not on our record. Their family members might have not brought them to the hospital to avoid legal formalities.’
Doctors at the hospital said the wounded had sustained bullet injuries, but most of them suffered injuries from hand-grenade shrapnel.
The police said that on a tip-off by the suspect arrested after an encounter in Machhar Colony on Saturday, they raided a warehouse in Kalakot early in the morning. The raid triggered gunfire from the gangsters, and the ensuing gunbattle between the two sides continued for several hours. Though the police claimed the seizure of heavy arms and ammunition, they made no arrest in the action.
‘We have recovered two TT pistols, a light machine gun, seven AK-47 assault rifles and eight walkie-talkies. Investigations from the three suspects arrested earlier — Akbar Bengali, Babar Punjabi and Sohail Sindhi — are expected to lead to more such actions by the police,’ said SP Rind.
Sources said the police had focused their attention on the gangs, mainly involved in extortion, running gambling dens and drug business, currently led by Uzair Mama, Rashid Rekha and Baba Ladla. However, the gang lords remained at large despite the strong police action, supported by more than 500 policemen, eight armoured vehicles and a number of Rangers’ men.
As the guns from both sides fell silent by the sunset, marks of heavy firing on the walls of the houses and surrounding buildings helped the investigators to ascertain the make and variety of arms being used by the gangsters.
‘They are mainly armed with AK-47, 222 and M-15 rifles, which are not available even to the police force,’ said DSP Sarwar Commando, the area’s supervisory police officer. ‘It’s not yet clear that how many grenades and rockets were fired by them, but I am sure they were in dozens.’
The fresh armed clash between the law enforcers and the notorious gangs came as a first such episode after the death of Abdul Rehman Baloch, variously known as Rehman Bhai and Rehman Dakait, who was killed in a disputed police encounter in August, suggesting continued presence of heavily armed criminals in the city’s oldest locality.
‘There are several gangs operating in the area, and we have traced their key members,’ said Ghulam Nabi Memon, the DIG (south). ‘Even today’s clash was triggered by our action against the arrest of notorious criminals, including Akbar Bengali, Babar Punjabi and Sohail Sindhi.’
However, he admitted that the killing of Rehman Baloch had not slackened criminal activities in the area, as ‘their stakes and strength have grown to a significant level during the past few years’.
‘But it’s a success that we entered the pockets which had been considered no-go areas till a few months ago,’ said DIG Memon. ‘Similarly, we arrested a key person, who worked for the Baba Ladla group, and it would help us achieve more successes in the near future.’