Illegal SIMs use in terror activities: Rangers warn mobile phone firms
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KARACHI: The Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, have warned all the mobile phone companies that their respective executives will be booked for terrorism if a phone connection sold in violation of set rules is found to have been used in any terror activity, it emerged on Monday.
In a letter sent to the regional headquarters of Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Warid and Zong, the Sindh chief minister and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the Rangers came up with the strong measures to counter the ‘flaws’ which they said were causing ‘deterioration of law and order situation’.
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The warning has caused consternation among the cellular companies business managers who believe that such a ‘tone and approach’ may hamper the confidence of the foreign operators who have invested billions of dollars in the country, while they insist that they have already been offering their best possible cooperation for the counter-terrorism actions.
“Taking stock of terrorist activities, it has been revealed that illegal SIMs are used by them,” stated the letter sent by the Rangers. “….thereby affecting the law and order situation of Karachi city. It has been found that SIMs, both unverified and without records, are being used for heinous crimes, including extortion collection and kidnapping for ransom. The SIMs are reactivated even after being blocked,” it added.
The concerns expressed by the paramilitary force seemed genuine and quite effective as they have been raised time and again over the past several years by the law enforcement and security agencies. Investigations into terrorist activities and major criminal incidents often lead to the finding that illegally obtained cellphone connections were used to complete the particular job.
The same point was highlighted in the fresh letter sent by the Rangers who blamed the cellular companies for their ‘uncooperative attitude’ ultimately affecting work of the law-enforcement agencies.
“Cellular companies have shown uncooperative attitude to all the complaints and efforts in controlling use of illegal SIMs and improving law and order situation,” the letter said. “The attitude shows that cellular companies are impellent to the organised crimes, consequently helping in deterioration of law and order situation, loss of life and business activity.”
While referring to ‘flaws’ in regular operations of the cellphone companies such as spillover of frequency, more tower density, higher number of antennas on a tower and slow response to the security agencies’ requests for provision of callers’ data record, which is a key part of investigation and intelligence gathering, this time it seems the Rangers planned a remedy on its own to address these concerns.
“It is reiterated, if cellular companies do not abide by the PTA rules, any crime occurring will considered as abetted by the cellular company and regional head of that cellular company will be nominated in the FIR for that particular terrorist activity,” said the letter.
The measures suggested by the paramilitary force came as a surprise for the cellphone companies which argued that law enforcement agency was not mandated to address such concerns directly with the operators. There was a regulatory body to address issues dealing with the mobile phone companies, said their representatives.
Besides, they said, such a policy of the law-enforcement agencies resulted in raids on franchises and retail shops in different cities of Sindh, shaking confidence of the companies and affecting overall business environment.
“You know carrying out business in Sindh has become extremely difficult for cellphone companies,” said a senior executive of a cellphone company while confirming to have received the letter from the Rangers.
“Our retailers are being harassed in different cities,” he said, wishing not to be named.
“The law enforcement agencies raided several authorised outlets and franchises. In some cases, they also confiscated biometric verification system devices and subscribers’ identity module (SIMs). One needs to understand that franchises and retailers are no more authorized to sell active SIMs. Every connection now goes through the biometric verification system. They just sell inactive connections.”
Last month alone, he said, several franchises and retail shops were raided in Kotri, Kashmore, Guddu Hyderabad, Dadu, Nawabshah, Matli, Tando Allahyar and Tando Adam while a number of sales staff and retailers were arrested.
“Unannounced operation by the law-enforcement agencies against retailers is being conducted in Sindh till today on the premise that they are not allowed to sell SIMs. This is either a misunderstanding on one’s end or sheer wrong perception about the standard operating procedure, set by the authorities concerned,” said the company executive.