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U.S. urges Pakistan to act after American charged with blasphemy shot in court

"We urge Pakistan to take immediate action," the U.S. State Department said in a tweet.
Image: An ambulance moves out of the Khyber Medical College (KMC) morgue, in Peshawar
An ambulance carrying the body of a man, who according to police was killed during a proceeding at a judicial complex, in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday.FAYAZ AZIZ / Reuters

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The United States has urged Pakistan to take action over the killing of an American national in a crowded courtroom as he faced trial for blasphemy.

Tahir Ahmed Naseem was shot multiple times at close range as he appeared in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday.

"We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again," the U.S. State Department said in a tweet.

As Naseem's arraignment began before the judge, a young man in the room pulled out a handgun and shot him in the head, officials and witnesses said. The young man was arrested on the spot.

On Thursday, supporters of a hardline Islamist group held a protest rally in Peshawar calling for the release of the suspected shooter, saying he had defended his religion.

The aftermath of the killing, captured on video and shared on social media, showed Naseem slumped over in a chair beside the judge's bench, as other shackled prisoners, some with bloodied clothes, were taken from the room.

"The young man who shot him had no remorse, and said he saw the Prophet Muhammad in a dream the night before," Latif Afridi, who heads the Peshawar High Court Bar Association, told Reuters.

Afridi questioned how the man managed to get a gun into the court given that all visitors are checked thoroughly at three different points.

"It is likely someone who can go without being checked, perhaps a police officer or a lawyer, handed the shooter the gun after he entered," he said.

According to the charge sheet against Naseem, seen by Reuters, the American was in contact with a student at an Islamic school in Pakistan on Facebook and told him he was a messiah sent by God.

Naseem later met the student in Peshawar, after which police arrested him and charged him with a number of crimes, including insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which can bring the death penalty in Pakistan.