KARACHI - An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi indicted three suspects on Saturday over involvement in a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-claimed attack on Karachi's Jinnah International Airport in June 2014.

The three suspects - Sarmad Siddiqui, Asif Zaheer and Nadeem alias Burger (also alias Mullah) - were produced in court amid tight security. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

The court has now summoned all witnesses in the case for the next hearing scheduled for March 14.

An ATC in 2014 had remanded Siddiqui, Zaheer and Nadeem for allegedly providing logistical support, funds and weapons to the militants that attacked the Karachi airport. At that time, the Investigating Officer (IO) had submitted a report which said that the suspects were arrested on Oct 28 and two of them were found carrying unlicensed weapons.

The IO had contended that during initial interrogation the suspects had disclosed that they purchased 9mm and CF 98 pistols by using the license of arms dealer Hameedur Rehman and handed over the weapons to Malik Mumtaz Awan and others. The brazen five-hour attack by militants took place at Karachi's international airport last year killing 28 people, including 10 attackers. The attack had started late Sunday when gunmen disguised as police guards stormed the terminal after opening fire with machine guns and a rocket launcher. This attack led to the launching of Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan to control growing militancy in the country.

The same year, the attack's mastermind Abu Abdul Rehman al Maani was killed during overnight airstrikes in 2014 carried out in action by fighter jets controlled jointly by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Pakistan Army in North Waziristan.

Baldia IO sorry for absence from hearings

Investigation Officer (IO) Sub-Inspector Jehanzeb for the Baldia factory fire case submitted a written apology at a session court on Saturday for not being present at previous hearings on the matter.

Once again, factory owners were not present for the hearing and the court directed authorities to issue a non-bailable arrest warrant against them if they fail to appear for the next hearing scheduled for March 21.

The industrial unit's owner, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, general manager Mansoor and three gatekeepers were booked in connection with the tragic incident in which over 250 workers were burnt alive.

During the hearing, the IO submitted a report of witnesses' statements to the court upon which lawyers expressed their reservations. The court directed Sub-Inspector Jehanzeb to address the objections raised by the lawyers.

Earlier, the court had issued a warrant for the IO's arrest over his absence from the case's hearings.

Previously, the court had asked the IO to complete the statements of witnesses and submit them on Feb 21. At the time, he informed the court that there were around 950 prosecution witnesses in the case and he had yet to record the statements of many of them under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the criminal procedure code.

When the case came up for hearing before additional district and sessions judge (west) Naushaba Kazi two weeks ago, the IO did not turn up. The court issued a non-bailable warrant for the IO's arrest, calling him to be produced by March 7 and asked the police high-ups to stop his salary.

The court's order had come after Advocate Shazia Hanjra who was the special public prosecutor in the case stepped down owing to what she described as the IO's non-cooperation.