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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Family turmoil over 'suicide bomb' women
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Saba (L) and Arifa Baloch
Saba (L) and Arifa Baloch from their police files
"I got him a job in the bank, but he has destroyed my house, my family, my life," says Sher Baloch, crying bitterly.

He is talking of Gul Hasan, the alleged member of the outlawed Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group sentenced to death on 45 counts last Saturday in connection with attacks on Shia mosques.

The police said last week that two of Mr Baloch's daughters - Saba and Arifa - had been arrested on suspicion of training to be suicide bombers.

The two sisters were last known to have visited Gul Hasan - their mother's brother - shortly before they disappeared with Gul Hasan's family in June last year.

"I wish Gul Hasan was dead," says Mr Baloch.

'Good Muslims'

The resentment in Mr Baloch's house is almost tangible. Every now and then, you can hear the mother burst out crying - her wails interspersed with expletives in Baloch.

Sher Baloch
My daughters are completely innocent and so pious that they would never get involved in such business
Sher Baloch

They are all directed at her brother Gul Hasan, whom everyone in the household says is a man of extreme sectarian views.

It is not easy to get Mr Baloch to sit in one place and recount his ordeal. He is highly agitated and occasionally bursts into tears. He finally settles down, looking resigned.

"I never thought my daughters would be discussed in public, all over the country," says Mr Baloch, a devout orthodox Muslim with six sons and seven daughters.

Besides a few chairs, the only other noticeable thing in his sparsely furnished sitting room is a pile of religious books.

"All my children are practising Muslims," he says. "But they are good Muslims, model citizens, not terrorists."

Mosque attacks

So what happened to his two daughters?

Gul Hasan
Gul Hasan - sentenced to death for Shia mosque attacks

"I had always been wary of Gul Hasan. He would often visit us and spend long hours chatting with the children," says Mr Baloch.

He says he stopped his children from meeting Gul Hasan after the latter's brother - Anwar Hasan - was arrested for being an alleged member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

"Gul Hasan was very angry and we had a fight," he says.

But Mr Baloch's wife eventually got the two of them to make up and Gul Hasan's visits started again.

Gul Hasan was arrested in June last year following two mosque attacks in Karachi which left at least 50 dead and dozens others injured.


"His wife came to live with us for a few days after he was arrested. She was very friendly with my daughters Saba and Arifa."

I can produce 5,000 people who would vouch for my character as well as that of my family
Sher Baloch

A few days after she had left, says Mr Baloch, she called his daughters and asked them to come to her house as she was feeling lonely and scared.

The daughters told their parents they were planning to visit their grandmother and left home on 29 June 2004.

Mr Baloch called the grandmother and discovered that his daughters never went there.

Suspicious, he called Gul Hasan's house and on finding his daughters there, told them to return home immediately.

"That was the last I heard from them. They disappeared with Gul Hasan's family the next day."

Mr Baloch says he has been meeting police as well as officers from the intelligence agencies "almost every day" to inquire about his daughters.

"I went to Gul Hasan many times and asked him to tell me where my daughters were. But he would always say that his entire family and my daughters would be slaughtered by his organisation if he disclosed their hideout."

"Gul Hasan even asked me to help secure his release. How could I do that, given that he was implicated in the murder of 50 innocent people?"


The next that Mr Baloch heard of his daughters was last week when the police confirmed their arrest.

"My daughters are completely innocent and so pious that they would never get involved in such business."

Sher Baloch's visa
Sher Baloch says his US visa is evidence of his good character

He brings out their passports. They are worthless - each one of them has the photographs cut out.

"My daughters did that when they returned from the Hajj," he says. "Islam doesn't allow photographs and they said having performed the Hajj they had no need to travel abroad again."

He cries: "I just want to talk to them again. Why isn't anyone telling me where they are?"

Mr Baloch has found considerable support from his community.

Lyari, where he lives in Karachi, has a huge Baloch population, which is traditionally a close knit community.

Being a banker, Mr Baloch has been able to secure jobs for dozens of young men in Lyari - something which has made him very popular.

He won 27,000 votes in a national assembly election in 1985, contesting as an independent.

"Ask anyone about our reputation," he says. "I can produce 5,000 people who would vouch for my character as well as that of my family."

"And if anyone still has any doubts, take a look at this," he says, rifling through his passport to a page which bears a five-year US visa.

"Would the Americans ever have given me a visa if our character was suspect?"

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