Pakistan to hold fresh probe into French engineers’ killings


LAHORE: The Pakistan government has decided to hold a fresh probe into the May 2002 killings of 11 French engineers in a suicide bomb attack outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi in the backdrop of allegations that the attack might have been masterminded by those in Pakistan who had been denied cash kickbacks which were promised to them on a 1994 arms deal to buy French Agosta submarines.

According to well placed interior ministry sources, the decision has been taken to unfold the mystery surrounding the 1994 arms deal and the 2002 killing of the Frenchmen belonging to the Directorate of Naval Construction who had been working in the port city of Karachi as per the terms of the contract. The sources said that during his recent interaction with his French counterpart Mr Brice Hortefeux, the Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik has informed him that the PPP government was open to holding a fresh inquiry into the 2002 Sheraton Hotel attack to address the concerns of the French government. The Pakistani authorities have subsequently sought from the French investigators any information on the case to initiate a fresh probe. The interior ministry sources said that the Sindh government has also decided to challenge in the Supreme Court the acquittal of three Islamic militants belonging to the Harkatul Mujahideen al-Alami who had earlier been convicted by an Anti Terrorism Court in Karachi for killing the 11 Frenchmen.

The 1994 attack had actually been blamed on militants who had been annoyed with the French government for its support to the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. However, in recent months, a former French intelligence official and lawyers acting for the families of the Karachi bomb attack victims had suggested that some Pakistani agents may have manipulated a jehadi group into carrying out the suicide hit. They suggest that members of the Pakistani military establishment may have taken revenge on France after Paris cancelled a promise to pay them kickbacks on the sale to Pakistan of the three submarines that the bomb victims were working on. The Frenchmen killed in the attack were: De Lecar Bicaiteir, J.M. Cheyasutt, Claude Trouet, B. Dupond, Leclerc J.Y., Bled Cedrick, Pascal de Counte, J. Pierre Delavie, Laurnet Jaques, Grous Pastal and Donnard Jhisrry. Two local bystanders, Hashim Abbas and Mewa Begum, were also killed in the suicide attack, which left many others wounded. Two militants belonging to the Harkatul Mujahideen al-Alami – Asif Zaheer and Mohammad Rizwan – were sentenced to death by an Anti Terrorism Court in Karachi on June 30, 2003 for organising the attack.

The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Al-alami (HuMA) is an offshoot of the proscribed Deobandi terrorist group, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), and was formed in the year 2002 by the renegade elements of the HuM. The group was later found involved in some of the terrorist attacks on Christians and Westerners in the Karachi and Islamabad. However, the convicts in the 2002 case belonging to the HuMA had challenged the trial court verdict in the Sindh High Court and they were subsequently acquitted by the court on May 5, 2009. The same court had also tried in absentia Mohammad Sohail alias Akram, another member of the HuMA, and eventually sentenced him to death for killing the French engineers. He was finally arrested in 2007 and his case was retried in accordance with the law. In the final arguments, the defence counsel contended that the prosecution had miserably failed to link the accused with the alleged offence and that the case was based on the confessional statement of a co-accused and the testimonies of two main witnesses, but the same set of evidence was discarded as the Sindh High Court had set side the conviction of the co-accused.

Bu in recent weeks, President Asif Zardari has been accused of having received millions of dollars in kickbacks from the sale of three French submarines to the Pakistan Navy way back in 1994. In addition, investigators say the non-payment of the full amount of the agreed kickbacks may have led to the murder of 11 French nationals in the 2002 terrorist attack in Karachi. A French newspaper daily Liberation has claimed having acquired documents that allegedly show that during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as the prime ministe Asif Zardari had received $4.3mn in kickbacks from the sale of three Agosta 90 submarines for 825mn euros (currently $1.237bn). According to the report, a former executive of the French naval defence company DCN, French authorities chose el-Assir to act as intermediary in the deal. He allegedly deposited a total of $1.3mn in Zardari’s bank accounts between August 15 and 30, 1994, one month before the submarine contract was signed, and then $1.2mn and $1.8mn one year later. But the presidential spokesman has strongly refuted these allegations.

Also, read:

Les pots-de-vin du président pakistanais
Ali Zardari aurait touché des commissions dans l’affaire des sous-marins de la DCN.

«Il peut s’agir des militaires»
Interview: Le général Hamid Gul, qui a dirigé des services secrets pakistanais, évoque l’attentat de Karachi en 2002.

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