ISLAMABAD: Before he allegedly killed 14 people and narrowly missed four “high value targets”, Abdul Rauf was obsessed with the Tom and Jerry cartoon series.
He took a great pleasure in watching how Jerry always outsmarted deceptive moves of Tom. He used to laugh a lot.
Not only that, he regularly watched daily current affairs shows to get a better understanding of the political and ideological inclinations of prime-time anchors.
Time and money were two luxuries that he could afford and enjoy.
According to police sources, Rauf tried to kill a senior journalist, Raza Rumi, and a renowned playwright, Asghar Nadeem Syed.
But how did a Tom and Jerry lover become a ruthless killer? Who were his handlers? Or was he a lone wolf, ready to devour his next target?
Investigation by Daily Capital reveals Rauf came from a wealthy family running a wholesale business in Badami Bagh, Lahore. The family owned a big, sprawling house and owned hundreds of acres of land in Kasur and other districts.
Though conservative and religious, his family members never displayed signs of extremism. Infact, a few of Rauf’s aunts were married in Shia families.
In April 2014, police arrested six suspects, including Rauf.
“The mastermind Abdul Rauf Gujar belongs to a banned militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ),” Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafiq had told the media.
Five other suspects were Shafaqat Farooqi alias Muavia, Mohammad Hashim, Sheikh Farhan, Suleman Pathan and Sabir Shah.
Rauf and his gang had attacked Raza Rumi on March 28, 2014. The anchor made a narrow escape, but his driver, Mustafa, lost his life in the incident.
On January 21, last year, the same gang tried to assassinate playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed near Lahore’s Shaukat Khanum Hospital. He, too, survived the attempt.
According to the CCPO, the suspects had assassinated provincial president of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Shamsur Rehman Muawiya, on December 6, 2013.
Lahore police believed that Rauf was an active LeJ member. However, investigators found out that he had never met with Malik Ishaq – head of the proscribed militant outfit. For years, Ishaq has been facing multiple cases of murder, and he is still in the judicial custody.
Sources told Daily Capital that Rauf began to radicalise during his days in a local seminary. By the time he turned 20, the ideological mutation was complete. He was ready to kill all “infidels”, as he reportedly told his interrogators.
Rauf also had a fleet of auto-rickshaws. He told the investigators that his rickshaw drivers were tasked with monitoring the movements of the targets. They kept an eye on them and reported back to him.
One day, while surfing television channels, he started watching Raza Rumi’s show. He was furious to see that Rumi was boldly criticising all militant outfits. He also started following Rumi’s Twitter and Facebook accounts before deciding to make a bid on his life.
The plan was to hit and run. The group of assassins carefully selected a suitable place to target the anchor in Lahore. Rumi was on his way home when his car was sprayed with Kalashnikov bullets.
Rauf reportedly told the interrogators that he had a visual flicker for a brief moment. And that probably saved the life of the anchor. Rumi ducked down, and the attackers did not take the risk of staying and fled away.
“Yes, I was receiving threats on social media – Facebook and Twitter – and some people were also making phone calls to Capital TV and Express Group where I was working as an anchor,” Rumi told Daily Capital.
He said the police had told him in January 2014 that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had issued a hit list comprising the names of journalists who had offended the militant network. His name was on number three.
“I believe the police have not found the right witnesses and they are asking the families of victims to come and give testimonies, which is neither lawful nor ethical. My driver’s family has also been getting threats and I am worried about their safety,” Rumi said.
Meanwhile, the police asserted among others, the gang had killed Dr Syed Ali Haider and his son Syed Murtaza Ali Haider, Khurram Raza Qadri of the Sunni Tehrik, advocates Shakir Ali Rizvi and Arshad Ali Shah, Allama Nasir Abbas, Syed Mubashir Hussain Naqvi and Syed Ali Hussain Qazilbash.
The attack on Rumi put the police under a lot of pressure. They started investigating the matter. Forensic report of the bullets revealed that the same weapon had been used in a few previous sectarian killings.
The discovery led to a chain of arrests.
Ultimately, the police reached Rauf’s handler Haroon Bhatti, who had previously spent several years in prison for masterminding several sectarian killings. However, he was released on bail because of the lack of evidence against him.
The police could not arrest Bhatti again since he had already fled abroad.
Meanwhile, investigators started analysing Bhatti’s phone data and found a clear line of communication between Rauf and him.
Police officials say that Rauf was an angry and ambitious young man. He needed patronage before embarking on his deadly mission. He reportedly approached Ahmed Ludhyanvi, the top leader of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, who did not encourage him at all.
The CCPO was on the record as saying that Rauf had met with Bhatti in Farooq-e-Azam seminary, situated in the suburbs of Lahore. It was Bhatti who assured Rauf that he would get him the LeJ patronage.
Despite what has been claimed by police officials in Lahore, it remains a mystery whether Malik Ishaq knew that Rauf was killing people in his name.
Rauf also told his interrogators that Bhatti had provided him with a list of, at least, 200 people who he wanted him to eliminate.
The police were also looking into Rauf’s connections with the TTP. He had allegedly facilitated several militants from Bajaur Agency who had later carried out attacks in different cities of Punjab.
Since any confession before the interrogators is not admissible in a court of law, the prosecution is now looking for solid evidence against him.
As it usually happens in such cases, prosecution is finding it extremely difficult to produce witnesses against Rauf.
Due to the lack of a proper witness protection programme in Pakistan, several prosecution witnesses have been brutally murdered in the past before they could testify against anyone in such cases.