ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani paramilitary force raided the headquarters of a major political party on Wednesday in the country’s biggest city, officials said, recovering weapons and arresting suspects wanted for several crimes, including the murder of a journalist.
The paramilitary Sindh Rangers launched the early morning raid on the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the violent southern port city of Karachi, home to 18 million people, where the party has long held sway over politics.
“Five to six men are those who are criminals and we have their record,” Colonel Tahir Mehmood of the Rangers told media. “There were certain people who have been awarded death sentences by court.”
Although MQM members have been arrested before, there has not been an incursion into the party’s heavily defended headquarters since the military raided it in 1992.
Karachi is home to many criminal gangs and Islamist militants also operate there. Many political parties there have armed wings that fight turf wars with opponents.
The MQM, Pakistan’s fourth largest party, traditionally represents the descendents of Urdu-speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It was involved in bloody factional battles in Karachi in the 1990s and now holds the majority of the city’s legislative seats.
The MQM’s enemies say the party engages in extortion and frequently kills rival activists. The MQM denies the accusations, saying its party workers are often the victims of other factions.
A prominent MQM politician said any weapons at its headquarters were properly licensed. He said the Rangers killed an MQM member during the raid.
“Dozens of our workers have been picked by the Rangers,” MQM politician Aminul Haque told Reuters. “Rangers opened fire, killing one of our workers, Waqas Ali Shah, and wounding a cameramen from Express TV.”
Mehmood denied that the raid was politically motivated.
He said it was prompted by news that several wanted men were at the headquarters, including Faisal Mota, sentenced to death in absentia for the 2011 murder of a television reporter, who was detained in the raid.
Four other people, who say they are members of the MQM, have been jailed for the killing of the reporter.
The MQM denied that any wanted criminals were at its headquarters.
“This Faisal Mota and the other people Rangers are naming ... they were neither present nor picked up from the MQM office,” said Wasay Jalil, a senior leader of the party.
Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel