The Punjabi Taliban and al Qaeda assassinated Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs in a shooting today in Islamabad, calling him a “blasphemer.”
Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down as he was leaving his mother’s home in the capital. At the time of his death, Bhatti was setting out for a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad. Bhatti’s driver was also seriously wounded in the attack.
“The attackers were wearing shawls and opened indiscriminate fire as they got close to the minister’s car,” Wajid Durrani, Islamabad’s chief of police, told reporters at a press conference.
Al Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban left pamphlets left at the scene of Bhatti’s murder to claim responsibility for the assassination. The terror groups claimed that Bhatti, an “infidel Christian,” was in charge of a secretive committee assigned to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, The Associated Press reported. Al Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban also threatened further assassinations against unspecified targets.
“With the blessing of Allah, the mujahedeen will send each of you to hell,” the pamphlet read.
Two Taliban spokesmen also claimed credit for the assassination, and compared him to Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was assassinated in January by his bodyguard for opposing Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws, which allow those perceived to have slighted Islam to be put to death.
“He was a blasphemer like Salman Taseer,” a spokesman known as Sajjad Mohmand told Reuters.
“[The] assassination of Bhatti is a message to all of those who are against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan, another Taliban spokesman.
Bhatti had continued to campaign for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws despite the assassination of Taseer and direct threats from al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“I want to make it clear that I am mindful that in the struggle to protect the religious freedom, the rights of minorities, and to raise the voice against the blasphemy law, I can be assassinated. I can be killed,” Bhatti told The Christian Post in February.
Bhatti told The Christian Post that he was the prime target of “religious extremists” and had received a direct threat from a Taliban commander:
You know that I’m getting threats and I’m told by the extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law I will be beheaded. So after the [death of] Gov. Taseer, I am the number one target in Pakistan. It is written in the Pakistan and international media a lot.
And before coming to here, I received a call from the Taliban commander and he said, “If you will bring any changes in the blasphemy law and speak on this issue, then you will be killed.” And in the protest processions, religious extremists burn the effigies of the pope and mine. And I have received a lot of fatwas of killing by the extremist Talibans.
Bhatti had refused to use his government-supplied bodyguard after Taseer was gunned down by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, one of his bodyguards. Bhatti said he could not trust the government-supplied escorts.
“I don’t believe that bodyguards can save me after the assassination [of Taseer],” he told The Christian Post.
After Taseer’s death, the assassin Qadri was feted by mainstream religious parties, lawyers, and other groups inside Pakistan often considered to be moderate. Lawyers showered the assassin bodyguard with rose petals as he left a court after a hearing, while Barelvi clerics, who are upheld as the caretakers of Pakistan’s moderate Muslims, said the murderer acted with “courage, bravery and religious honor and integrity,” and warned other Pakistani politicians against opposing the blasphemy law.
Pakistani politicians have been mostly silent on the subject since Taseer’s assassination, for fear of retribution from Islamic extremists. Sherry Rehman, another governmental minister who had sought to revise the blasphemy laws, has dropped the issue after receiving death threats, and is currently under heavy security.
- Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti Murdered, The Christian Post
- Q&A: Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, The Christian Post
- Gunmen kill Christian Pakistan government minister, The Associated Press
- Minorities Minister assassinated; TTP claims responsibility, Geo News
- Minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti assassinated, Dawn
- Militants say killed Pakistani minister for blasphemy, Reuters
- Bhatti assassination not result of security lapse: IG Islamabad, Dawn
- Pakistani lawyers, ‘moderate’ Muslim group fete governor’s assassin, Threat Matrix