Saad Aziz has the dubious honor of enhancing Pakistan’s terrorism vocabulary. Before his May 21 confession to killing social activist Sabeen Mahmud, and gunning down Ismailis in Safoora Goth, Pakistan’s political pendulum on terror swung between two stops: every hit on the homeland could be traced back to either the Taliban or India’s intelligence agencies. A young man with an elite education and cosmopolitan upbringing could never be a jihadist. The fact that similar individuals were joining the Islamic State (IS) was dismissed as a first-world problem. Rich people would never go rogue in Pakistan; life was too good for them here!
Reborn fanatics like Saad Aziz and cohort Mohammed Ishrat are especially troublesome because they are hard to predict and don’t conform to stereotypes. No one talks about the other killers, Haafiz Nasir or Tahir Hussain, because their socio-religious standing is within the present profile’s margin of error. Local commentators are now dusting off precedents to downplay Aziz’s actions, and comparing him to Omar Saeed Sheikh and Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. These comparisons don’t work because both of the latter embraced Al-Qaeda’s original logic of jihad against the infidel occupiers of Muslims lands. Unlike Aziz, neither willfully targeted fellow Muslims, nor spewed anti-Shia hate.
The devolution of Saad Aziz from family man to a mass murderer mirrors the case of Nadir Soofi, the late Texas shooter. Like Soofi, Aziz belongs to a rich family, went to expensive schools and was an upstanding member of society. A friend from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) remembers “He was a burger [spoilt] kid” who “had girlfriends.” On hearing of his arrest, an Aziz employee at The Cactus (his upscale restaurant) protested “It is impossible. His character is not like that.” The Crime Investigation Department’s (CID) Umar Khattab begged to differ: “It took 13 months to complete the investigations that lead us to this group.”
Unfortunately, we know nothing of the “snap” moment: that single stressor which made Saad Aziz abandon his privileged life and go down the killing road. Nadir Soofi, for example, had a hard time reconciling the material struggles of adulthood with his glorious youth, and used religion as a shelter from worldly failure. Everyone agrees that Aziz was a regular kid his first two years at the IBA. He made friends and participated in group activities like any milquetoast undergrad. Aziz even attended a few T2F community events organized by Sabeen Mahmud, the woman he would eventually murder.
Then something changed in 2010: Saad Aziz stopped talking to the females on campus, and joined an IBA religious society called “Iqra.” There are rumors he read Milestones by Sayyid Qutb, and this controversial book ignited his fanaticism. He subsequently began publishing an online magazine called Al Rashideen that reveled in religious bigotry. As with Nadir Soofi, old friends were first alienated, then cut loose from Aziz’s life. Another IBA friend says he disappeared for a while, adding “Someone said he had gone for jihad training.” The “good boy from a good family” was morphing into an “Al-Qaeda India branch” foot-soldier.
Pakistani officials have been reluctant thus far to use the “I-Word.” Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the Interior Minister, recently stressed that the IS did not exist in Pakistan, despite the warning flyers found near the Safoora Goth carnage. Gen. John Campbell, the NATO forces commander in Afghanistan, disagreed: “There’s recruiting going on in Afghanistan, there is recruiting going on in Pakistan. There is money being passed back and forth.” The brazen method to the Ismaili Shia massacre has IS written all over it. The group has systematically targeted the Yazidi Shias in Iraq, and bombed Shia mosques in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
As for Saad Aziz, his charge sheet keeps getting longer without any motive in sight. With numerous people willing to vouch for him, the police is being accused of obtaining tortured confessions. A Pakistani security expert, pleading secrecy, revealed “sometimes when…under pressure to solve…cases, they arrest people and torture them to confess.” That said, if the police was under political pressure to nail someone quickly, why choose an implausible fall-guy like Aziz? Surely it realized that his backstory would lead to more questions than pats on the back?
A professor of psychiatry in Great Britain suggests that unconventional terrorists like Saad Aziz can be understood without demonizing the madrassah or mullah. Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, from the Queen Mary University of London, believes that radicalization is a mental health issue similar to substance abuse. This is certainly how Europe treated Andreas Lubitz, the German pilot who committed suicide by Airbus in March. Instead of labeling Lubitz a terrorist for killing 150 people, his actions ignited a debate over Germany’s patient privacy laws. After Aziz, homegrown terror is no longer a neatly labelled box onPakistan’s social periphery. The question is does it care to complicate the profile?