Naila Tabbasum, 30, a resident of Gulistan-e-Johar locality of Karachi, works in a pharmaceutical factory. For the past three weeks, she is living in fear. Several days have passed since she last went to office. It is because of an ostensibly lone attacker who has been stabbing women in her neighbourhood and adjacent areas of Gulshan-e-Iqbal. His weapon is a knife.
Since September 25, the knife-wielding attacker riding on a motorcycle and wearing helmet has injured at least eighteen women in Gulistan-e-Johar and neighbouring areas of the metropolis. According to police and hospital officials, almost all women suffered injuries on their right side and were attacked from behind.
“The attacker injured a friend of mine in a street in my neighbourhood,” Tabassum tells TNS. She said the rise in attacks has forced women to curtail their activities and stay at home.
An official at Shahra-e-Faisal police station, where most of the incidents occurred, says the attacker is not a mugger and through his attacks, he is exhibiting psychopathic behaviour. “In the beginning, we thought the attacker was using sharp objects like paper cutter and knife, targeting young women dressed in a certain attire but it was incorrect. He is targeting women — young and old alike,” he says.
The attacks were first reported on social media, quoting a person who is said to be a medical officer at a hospital, cautioning that a gang was roaming on the roads and streets of Gulistan-e-Johar, attacking women. The post stated the incidents were reported on a certain road in the neighbourhood.
The police were also alerted about the incidents via social media. At first, the police claimed ignorance about the incidents, however, later when the victims were approached, the reports were confirmed.
The attacker still remains at large, evading arrest and perplexing law enforcement agencies, which have increased their presence in the areas. Even the police have found no clue so far about the motive and identity of the attacker. In an attempt to protect women within its premises, the administration of University of Karachi — situated in the area — has banned motorcyclists from wearing a helmet.
Samiullah Soomro, a senior police officer, says they have arrested a number of suspects from the areas. “We are making efforts to arrest the culprit on the basis of information we have gathered so far. At this stage, we cannot say who is the attacker,” Soomro tells TNS.
After the media raised the issue, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also took notice of the continued attacks on women and showed his displeasure at the police performance. He tells media, “What is happening and why the police have failed to arrest the culprit.” After the news the police started search for the elusive knife attacker and held many suspects whom they handed over to the Counter-Terrorism Department, a police body that mainly deals with cases of terrorism and militancy.”
Police has also inserted sections of terrorism in the case against the attacker so the case will be transferred to anti-terrorism court. Police has also announced a bounty of one million rupees on him.
Political parties including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan organised protests, criticising the government for failure to nab the attacker. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have also submitted their resolutions in Sindh Assembly on this issue.
Dr Anil Kumar, a psychiatrist in Karachi says, “The attacker seems to be a psycho, taking revenge for an insult from women. It seems he is using drugs. Such people get satisfaction from harming other people.”
It is not the first incident in Pakistan that an individual or group is targeting women. In August 2016, police arrested Muhammad Ali, aged 24, for carrying out attacks on working women in Rawalpindi to spread panic among them. One among the injured women succumbed to her injuries. He injured around 17 women in four months and later police arrested him along with accomplices.
In 2015, three men (one of them was called Waseem) were arrested for a series of attacks on women for moving independently in public spaces, in Sahiwal and Chichawatni districts. There are reports suggesting that a group of men in the late 1990s targeted women for wearing short-sleeved shirts outside major shopping centres.
Investigations in Karachi attacks also lead to Waseem, the alleged attacker from Sahiwal, who was released on bail last year. He has been declared an absconder and is wanted for the attacks. A team from Karachi police also visited Sahiwal in this regard and interrogated wife and sisters of Waseem.