Islamabad: In a midnight raid on a seminary in the heart of the capital, law enforcement agencies have picked up four men allegedly involved in the attack on the Punjab home minister in his hometown of Attock. However, the capital’s police was unaware of the action until the last minute, sources in the department told sorces.
The Madaressah Haqqania is located on the green belt along Eighth Avenue – a stone’s throw from Faisal Mosque and Naval Headquarters – and was raided by a joint team from the police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) as well as units from Rawalpindi police and paramilitary personnel.
Those taken into custody included Imadullah, the son of seminary administrator Qari Ahsanullah, as well as a teacher, Arshad, and two visitors to the seminary, one of whom was identified as Shoukat.
Officials said that the raid was carried out on the basis of solid information regarding the presence of a suspect linked with the attack in Attock.
At least 20 vehicles, including vans from the Banni and Sadiqabad police stations in Rawalpindi and Punjab Elite Force units also participated in the raid.
Perhaps due to their unfamiliarity with Islamabad, the raiding party first headed to E-7, then emerged from near the Faisal Mosque and headed wrong-way down Faisal Avenue and pulled up outside the seminary – which is located on the green belt between Eighth Avenue and Ismail Zabeeh Road – just after 1am on Friday.
Only after the raiding party arrived at the seminary were the local police informed, officials told sources, adding that the senior officer concerned and station house officer arrived at the scene along with the night-patrolling staff later.
“Why the raiding party did not inform the local police is a mystery. Either there was some urgency or other apprehensions, we don’t know,” senior police officials told Dawn.
As Islamabad police officials looked on, the raiding party entered the seminary and took four people into custody after searching the premises for over an hour.
Initially, the police party was not allowed to enter the seminary by those inside, officials said. However, they then broke down the door and entered forcefully, combing every nook and cranny of the building, especially the living quarters.
Officials told sources that the mosque adjacent to the seminary and the green belt was also searched thoroughly.
The seminary’s administrator, Qari Ahsanullah, is a key leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and his name has been on the Islamabad police’s watch list under the Fourth Schedule of the Anti Terrorism Act since 2009, officials said. He was put on the list for spreading sectarian hatred and hate speech.
Police would regularly obtain surety bonds of good behaviour from him, and the last one was obtained quite recently.
“But during the Friday congregation, Qari Ahsan criticised the raid in his sermon and declared it a highhanded action of the government. He also accused the forces behind the raid of being American agents,” an official told Dawn. Following the sermon, police have begun collecting evidence in this regard and have also asked Special Branch to prepare a report and recommend action against him, sources said.
The seminary was first checked by capital police on Monday, shortly after the attack in Attock, they stated. “The information shared by the seminary administration did not mention presence of any outsiders on the premises,” an official said, adding that, “but after the arrests, it is clear that they lied to the police”.
“Now Islamabad police has initiated its own investigation to establish whether or not those two strangers were staying at the seminary when it was checked by law enforcement agencies on Monday,” the officer said, adding that they would face strict action if it was found that they lied to the police.
“Police cannot check each seminary and verify their students, teachers and visitors on their own and rely on the information provided by each administration,” an official said.
Under the previous PPP government, the interior minister had allowed capital police to raid any seminary they suspected and collect details from there, he said, adding that the current interior minister had categorically asked the police not the do so without any concrete information.
There was no official confirmation over the raid and the arrests. Inspector General of Police Tahir Alam Khan, however, did not confirm or deny the raid, saying only, “We are collecting the details”.
When asked for further comment, he said, “If anyone is arrested from there in connection with terrorism, action will be initiated against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act.”
Another police official, on condition of anonymity, told sources that the arrests suggested that the administration of these seminaries was not cooperating with law enforcers. He also said that it was not enough to simply obtain details of teachers, students and visitors from the seminary administrators to avoid the presence of suspected terrorists there, he added.
Seminaries run by those who are included in the Fourth Schedule should be searched by officials of the capital administration and police, he suggested.
Qari Ahsanullah, however, decried the raid, saying that it was conducted without any warrants or the presence of a magistrate or assistant commissioner. “The reason behind the raid and the location of those who were detained is not known,” he added. He told Dawn that he had visited the CIA and CID office, as well as Margalla police station, but the detainees were not there. “Police is not giving us any information on their whereabouts,” he said.
He also told sources that a meeting of around a dozen scholars was called at the madressah after the raid to devise a strategy to deal with the situation.
Although officials stated that four people were arrested from the premises, he insisted that only three people were picked up. “Earlier, police arrested two persons – a teacher and a visitor – and left the building. But they returned shortly afterward and also took my son,” he said.
“My son holds an MPhil degree and is a religious scholar who is pursuing a PhD in Hadith from the International Islamic University Islamabad, he said. The teacher, Mohammad Irshad, who was also picked up was the brother of a Frontier Constabulary official, Faizul Amin, who was killed in Waziristan.
When asked who the third person was, Ahsanullah claimed ignorance, but said that his CNIC was checked when he arrived at the seminary on Thursday to collect the belongings of another student who had left the madressah and enrolled in another seminary – Ashrafia – located at Mandi Mor.