Multan - Activating a SIM with fake subscription is not costlier than just one kilogram bag of vegetable ghee as a group of thugs has been caught by the residents of village Boharwala in precincts of Seetal Mari Police, who activated over 200 SIMs by tricking poor women, The Nation has learnt.

Although police fear that the SIMs with fake subscription might have been used in criminal activity, they are unclear as to what sections of law the accused should be booked under.

"It's quite obvious that these SIMs were going to be used in crimes like robbery, kidnapping for ransom, or even terrorism. Anyone who has to make calls need not avail such SIMs," said Ch Maqbool Jutt, Deputy Superintendent of Police New Multan Circle, told this scribe. He said that a summary had been sent to the legal branch of police department for opinion and a case would be registered against the accused as soon as the reply was received.

The SIMs recovered from terrorists involved in Peshawar tragedy had been acquired from Hasilpur, a remote area of southern Punjab, registered in the name of a woman.

Sources said that the villagers caught Ghulam Yaseen and Shoaib along with two biometric machines red-handed and handed over the tricksters to Seetal Mari Police, where officials of different intelligence agencies also quizzed them.

A woman accomplice of accused, Karam Bibi, and a facilitator from the same village, Mushtaq Bhatti, managed to escape from the spot. Sources said that another person namely Atif Bokhari, who is stated to be accomplice of the accused, approached Seetal Mari Police and allegedly offered Rs200,000 for releasing the arrested accused but police arrested him too.

Police sources said that the accused revealed during investigation that they were sent by one Javed Hayat, a resident of Mumtazabad area, who also runs a mobile phone shop in the same area, for activating SIMs. "He paid Rs500 per day to each of us for this service," they were quoted by sources as telling the interrogators. Sources said that hunt for Javed was on as police conducted two raids at his residence for his arrest but he was not present there.

The swindlers asked women to come and get a one kilogram ghee bag for free, after getting their National Identity Card numbers and putting their thumbs on scanning machine. This activity continued unchecked for two consecutive days until a local influential namely Malik Niaz Ahmad alias Malik Naved, who is a chairman candidate in upcoming local government election, got suspicious.

"Some women approached me and lamented that they were not given ghee bags because the machines did not accept their thumbs. It astonished me that why on earth thumb scanning was being done for giving away mere ghee bags," Malik Niaz Ahmad told The Nation. Giving details, he said that the swindlers told women that their thumbs were being scanned for making ration cards.

"We are from an NGO and we'll give you ration in (holy month of) Ramazan and clothes before Eid for free, once your cards are ready," he quoted the accused as telling the victim women. He said that he developed suspicions and texted the NIC numbers of five or six women including Shahnaz Mai, Sheemo Mai, Iqbal Mai and Sumera Bibi, who had got ghee bags, to the 668, which confirmed that one SIM had been activated in the name of each of them.

Malik Niaz disclosed that over 60 women had so far got their SIMs deactivated while the remaining were highly perturbed and afraid. "We've demanded police to recover these SIMs as soon as possible as the families of these women fear that these SIMs might be used in any terrorism activity," he added.

When contacted, an official of a mobile network operator insisted that the companies fully followed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed by the PTA for the sale of SIMs. "Pakistan is the only country in the world where SIMs are sold after biometric verification and the entire expense made on this exercise is borne by the companies," he added while requesting not to be named.

He said that the incidents of exploitation of biometric verification system occurred due to sheer poverty. "People are ready to do anything for a few hundred or thousand rupees. We also demand strict action against all those involved in any illegal activity, including fake subscription of SIMs," he added.

The PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran could not be contacted despite repeated attempts by this scribe. A text message was also sent to him but no reply was received till filing of this report.