Taliban bank robberies total $18m in Karachi since 2009

Karachi police have arrested 42 Taliban suspects

By Javed Mahmood

2012-05-23

KARACHI – In a desperate bid to generate funds for terrorism, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outlaws have robbed Karachi banks of US $18m (Rs. 1.6 billion) since 2009, police told Central Asia Online May 21.

“Several activists of TTP ... have confessed to police that they have committed bank robberies to provide money to the organisation,” said Khurram Bari, superintendent of the Karachi Police’s Special Interrogation Unit (SIU), which interrogates suspects linked to terrorism or terror-financing cases.

Police accuse militants of involvement in at least 28 robberies since 2009, including 18 of the 39 bank heists in 2010-2011. In 2011, Taliban militants robbed Karachi banks of about Rs. 500m (US $5.5m), according to a Karachi police internal report. That total included Karachi’s biggest bank robbery of the year, a heist of more than Rs. 90m (US $990,000) from a Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) branch, police said.

TTP outlaws have robbed branches of MCB, Habib Bank Limited, Allied Bank, United Bank Limited, Faysal Bank Limited, and the Soneri Bank, according to the police report.

Taliban infiltrate private security agencies

Pro-Taliban elements have infiltrated private security agencies meant to protect the banks, according to police.

In the MCB robbery, a security guard, Muhammad Anwar, aided five accomplices, police contended. Anwar allowed the robbers to enter the bank and helped them clean out counters and drawers, bank manager Abdul Saboor told police.

Anwar and three other suspects remain at large, but police have detained Sarwar and Sher Zaman in that case. Security guards have been involved in other bank robberies, Bari said.

“We have written letters to the Sindh Home Department to direct the security companies to prepare a fool-proof mechanism for the verification of their existing strength of guards and to make sure that pro-Taliban elements do not find their place in these companies,” he said.

3 types of criminals involved in robberies

Three types of criminals are robbing banks: religious extremists, organised gangs and professional criminals, Bari said.

Pro-Taliban extremists rob banks to raise money for the TTP’s terrorist activities, he said.

Gangs do it to amass wealth and to savour the thrill of the caper, he added.

Hardened criminals rob banks to finance their lifestyles, he said.

Police have struck back, arresting 42 TTP activists in 2010 and 2011 in connection with various robberies, Bari said. In those two years, the police recovered Rs. 110m (US $1.2m) and various weapons from the suspects, who face trial in different Karachi courts, he said.

Not enough police; underpaid guards

A lack of police has caused banks to hire private security guards, Bari said.

“We have raised this issue with the higher-ups of the police and the government,” he said. “If the police were allowed complete manpower, we would be able to protect the banks and minimise the number of robberies.”

Economic and professional frustration can also undermine security guards’ honesty. “Low wages, lack of incentives and improper training are the three major causes that frustrate the security guards, and ultimately they opt for robbing the banks,” Col. (ret.) Sabahatullah Chaudhry, chief security officer for a foreign bank in Karachi, told Central Asia Online May 21.

A security guard earns barely Rs. 7,300 (US $80) a month, with neither accommodation nor healthcare included, he said. “How can a security guard who earns less than a labourer feel any loyalty?” he asked.

Chaudhry recommended a monthly salary of at least US $150 (Rs. 13,700); an annual bonus; and free housing, transport and healthcare. He also recommended banks and security companies meet to discuss a framework for better guard pay and privileges.

The security companies need to verify guards’ background and train them, too, he said, suggesting that if a security company won’t do that, it should lose its license.

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