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 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 holds a stranglehold on 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.
MQM’s opponents say the party engages in extortion and frequently kills opposition activists. The MQM denies the allegations, saying its own party workers are targeted by others.
Mehmood said the raid was not politically motivated, but prompted by news that several wanted men were at the headquarters, including one sentenced to death in absentia for the 2011 murder of a young television reporter.
Four others, who say they were members of MQM, have already been jailed for the killing. The MQM denied they were members of the party.
On Wednesday, a prominent MQM politician said any weapons at its headquarters were properly licensed. He said 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.”
The MQM’s leader, Altaf Hussain, is wanted for an unrelated murder case in Pakistan and lives in exile in London.
Karachi is home to many militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban. Many political parties there have armed wings to fight turf wars.