Gunmen kill Sunni Muslim cleric in Pakistan

Supporters of a slain Sunni Muslim cleric burn road signs during violence in Karachi
Supporters of a slain Sunni Muslim cleric burn road signs Sunday during a rally in Karachi. Gunmen killed the cleric in what appeared to be a sectarian attack, police said. Zahid Hussein / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gunmen riding three motorcycles opened fire outside a Sunni Muslim mosque in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Sunday, killing a Sunni cleric who once belonged to an outlawed group suspected of committing sectarian violence, officials said. The cleric's bodyguard also was killed.

The shooting occurred near the Jamia Mamoor mosque in Karachi’s busy shopping area on Tariq Road after midday prayers, said Farooq Awan, a senior Karachi police official.

The victims were Maulana Haroon Qasmi, 31, the mosque’s imam, or prayer leader, and his bodyguard, identified as Mohammed Aqil, 26.

“They were attacked from three sides,” said Qari Mohammed Shafiq, a spokesman for the cleric.

Both were pronounced dead at the state-run Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Center, said Pretam Das Jesrani, a doctor at the hospital.

A motive for the attack was not immediately known. The attackers escaped, Awan said.

Qasmi was a member of the Sunni organization Sipah-e-Sahaba, Shafiq said. In 2002, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned the group for its suspected involvement in killing hundreds of Shiite Muslims, who are a minority in Pakistan.

Qasmi was a lawyer for Millat-e-Islamia, a group that emerged after Sipah-e-Sahaba was outlawed, said Tariq Jamil, Karachi’s chief of police.

Father also slain
Four years ago, Qasmi’s father, Maulana Ishaq Qasmi, also an Islamic scholar and imam, was shot dead near the site of Sunday’s attack, Jamil said.

Hours after Qasmi’s killing, hundreds of angry supporters burned tires in the streets near the mosque, torched a police kiosk and pelted passing cars with stones, Jamil said.

Karachi — Pakistan’s largest city and main port — has been the scene of deadly sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis. Police were investigating whether Sunday’s attack was aimed at stirring up sectarian violence ahead of the Islamic month of Muharram.

“We are looking into whether it was an attempt to spoil the communal peace before Muharram,” Jamil said.

Muharram is a month of mourning when Shiite Muslims recall the 7th-century death of Hussein, grandson of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. It begins in early February.