Pakistan to hang ‘terrorists’ behind bus attack and activist murder

Pakistan Military chief General Raheel Sharif confirmed the death sentences
Pakistan Military chief General Raheel Sharif confirmed the death sentences

Pakistan’s military chief on Thursday approved the execution of five “hardcore terrorists” that the army said were involved in the killing of a prominent rights activist and a deadly bus attack claimed by Islamic State.

An army statement said the five were charged in a military court and admitted their guilt, though it did not specify what they were charged with.

Military chief General Raheel Sharif had confirmed the death sentences, it said.

The five “perpetrated” the attack on a bus in Karachi last May, in which gunmen stormed the vehicle and killed 45 members of the minority Ismaili community, the statement said.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack, though the military statement on Thursday described the five as “active” members of Al-Qaeda. No reason for the discrepancy was immediately given.

The five were also “involved” in the killing of rights activist Sabeen Mehmood as well as several other attacks, the statement said, without offering more details.

Mehmood was shot dead in the port city of Karachi in April last year minutes after hosting a seminar on abuses in restive Balochistan province.

The killing sent shockwaves through the country’s progressives, as those who speak out against alleged abuses by the state warned they were under increasing threat.

Months later, authorities revealed that the main suspect in the bus attack, Saad Aziz, had admitted to Mehmood’s murder also.

Aziz was among the five whose executions were confirmed on Thursday.

Pakistan reinstated the death penalty and established military courts as part of a crackdown after its deadliest ever extremist attack, when gunmen stormed a school in the northwest in 2014 leaving more than 150 people dead.

Rights activists have criticised a surge in hangings since the moratorium was lifted, with Pakistan becoming the world’s third most prolific executioner in 2015, and complained the military trials are neither transparent nor fair.