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Pakistan Security Forces Raid MQM Party Headquarters

Security forces in Karachi, Pakistan raided the offices of a powerful political party Wednesday morning, saying they arrested “criminals” and confiscated "banned weapons."

The Rangers, a paramilitary force used to maintain security in conflict areas, broke down the barricades surrounding the offices of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement or MQM, the party with the second-largest presence in the assembly of Sindh province.

Rangers spokesman Colonel Tahir Mahmood said the barricades blocked 21 routes, creating a "no-go area" which was beyond the purview of a political party.

Some of the half-a-dozen people arrested had death sentences against them from the courts, Mahmood said in a press briefing.

One of them, a man by the name of Faisal Mota, had been sentenced to death for the murder of journalist Wali Khan Babar. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists had often demanded action in the case. A dozen or so other people were detained for questioning.

In the two-hour operation, Rangers went through the files and equipment of MQM before handing the offices over to police for further investigation. They also found weapons that were banned in Pakistan, according to Mahmood. He said he thought some of these weapons may have been stolen from NATO containers.

Although U.S. officials in the past have said that they do not ship any weapons or sensitive military equipment through Pakistan’s ground routes, stories of weapons stolen from NATO containers have often circulated in local media.

MQM has denied the charges and called the raids politically motivated. Party leaders said any weapons found in their offices were legal with permits and were used to safeguard against threats from extremist elements like the Pakistani Taliban.

Party chief Altaf Hussain alleged the Rangers planted any illegal weapons found in their offices. Hussain leads the party from London, where he lives in self-imposed exile and is facing a police investigation on money laundering charges.

MQM also accused the Rangers of killing one of their young workers, Waqas Ali Shah, during the raid. Rangers say the young man was killed with a handheld gun that their personnel do not use.

Journalist Mazhar Abbas said the operation was expected ever since the Rangers issued a report last month, blaming MQM for a deadly factory fire that killed more than 250 people. The report said the factory was burned down when the owners refused to pay extortion money to an MQM official - another charge the party denied.

Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi had been in the throws of violence for several years. Criminal activity had intensified, targeted killings, extortion and kidnappings had become common and stories of militant strongholds appeared in international media. Throughout this time, MQM, the port city’s most powerful political party, was often accused of being behind most of this violence. MQM has always called these allegation false.

The current Rangers action was part of an ongoing operation that started in late 2013 to rid Karachi of criminal elements.