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Top Pakistan police chief Chaudhry Aslam Khan killed in Karachi Taliban attack

Enemies of country's toughest policeman finally catch up with him
  • @AndrewBuncombe

He was the cop who could not be got - Pakistan’s toughest policeman, taking on the bad guys in the country’s toughest city.

But Chaudhry Aslam Khan’s enemies eventually did for him. On Thursday, as his convoy was travelling through Karachi in the late afternoon traffic, a bomber targeted his vehicle. He was killed along with at least two other officers. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying they had finally killed a man they had targeted many times.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, paid tribute to Mr Aslam, saying his death was a huge loss to the police force. “Chaudhry Aslam was a brave officer. We will not let the will of the nation be crushed by these cowardly acts by terrorists.”

Mr Aslam counted everyone from mobsters to militants among his enemies and he had been the target of up to ten assassination attempts. Yet for all his bravado he was a controversial figure; he had been accused, repeatedly, of taking the law into his own hands and overseeing extra-judicial killings.

In September 2011, when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a truck through the front gate of his house in Karachi’s Defence neighbourhood and set off a blast that killed eight people, the policeman emerged unhurt, stepping through the damage to denounce the attackers.

“They call themselves Muslims but they are unbelievers. This will make me even more determined to carry on operations against them,” he said. “Such things do not scare me. I’m staying right here. They can try and come for me whenever they want and I'll be ready.”

He added: “I will give my life but I won’t bow to terrorists.”

A 30-year veteran of the police service, Mr Aslam had since 2010 been serving as head of the city’s anti-terror unit. Often working through the night and typically armed with a Glock pistol, he had received countless awards for his work.

In March last year he was awarded the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz award by Pakistan’s president. He also claimed to have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in reward money.

On Thursday there was some initial uncertainty as to how Mr Aslam’s car was targeted.

The AFP news agency reported that Mr Aslam’s vehicle had been targeted at around 4.40pm as it was travelling close to the city’s Lyari Expressway in the Essa Nagri area. Iqbal Mehmood, a senior officer, said the bomber smashed his vehicle into Aslam’s convoy.

Reports said the policeman had been returning from an operation targeting militants when the attack vehicle happened. Earlier in the day Mr Aslam reported that he had killed three men in an shoot-out.

Yet a police spokesman, Atique Ahmed Shaikh told The Independent that an initial assessment had concluded Mr Aslam’s convoy had been targeted by an IED bomb. He said the two other officers killed were Mr Aslam’s bodyguards. Five other police officers were injured.

“Initial reports suggest that it was an IED blast, but an investigation is on,” said Mr Shaikh.

In the aftermath of the killing, a faction of the Taliban from the tribal Mohmand agency claimed responsibility. A spokesman told reporters that the attack should serve as a warning to people who worked with the officer.

“Aslam was involved in killing Taliban prisoners in CID cells in Karachi and was on the top of our hit-list,” said Taliban spokesman Sajjad Mohmand. “This was a warning to the people who were on Aslam’s team. If they don’t distance themselves from his agenda, their fate will be even worse than him.”

Karachi, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of more than 20m people, is notorious for its violence. A combination of common criminals, politically-affiliated gangs and well-armed militants have created a situation where killings and murder are a daily occurrence. In 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, around 2,000 people were killed.

In the aftermath of the Thursday’s attack, television channels showed the scene, with Mr Aslam’s mangled SUV. A large number of officers were at the scene, with members of the public being kept back behind tape.

Mr Aslam had been targeted so many times that he bore an air of apparent indestructibility. Last year his vehicle was targeted at the same place where he was killed in Thursday's blast. In 2010, militants blew up the head office of the Karachi CID in an attempt to kill him. Each time he seemed to brush off the danger.

Since 2008, Mr Aslam had taken on and taken out countless numbers of criminals, including the 2010 killing Rehman Dakait, a notorious gangster from Baluchistan.

Yet his methods had also sparked controversy and he had been accused on a number of occasions of being involved in extra-judicial killings, or “encounter”. Once he was suspended. A series of investigations had cleared him of wrong-doing but the accusations did not stop. He always denied them.

“I have never staged fake encounters in my career, nor have I been involved in extra-judicial killings, he once told a local paper. “All encounters that I have been involved in have been in self-defence.”