Khurram Zaki, a leading Pakistani rights activist known for his strong stance against hatred and violence targeted at Shia Muslims, and his friend have been shot dead by motorbike-borne Taliban militants here in an apparent sectarian attack.
Zaki, 40, was having dinner Saturday night with his friend Rao Khalid at a restaurant when four armed assailants came on two motorcycles and sprayed bullets. Both Zaki and Khalid were rushed to a hospital where they succumbed to their injuries. A bystander named Aslam was also injured in the firing.
The Hakimullah Mehsud faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement to the media.
The group said Zaki was targeted for his views on Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz.
Police, however, said it could not confirm the claim by the Taliban faction.
A senior police investigator said it was more likely a case of target killing and a sectarian attack as both men killed belonged to the Shia community.
Zaki, a social media campaigner, civil society activist, blogger, journalist and religious scholar, was known for his strong views on the Lal Masjid cleric and led a campaign against him for his extremist views since last year.
Zaki had condemned extremism in all forms and came into limelight when he led the campaign against Aziz for inciting hatred against Shia Muslims.
He and other campaigners built up pressure and got a case registered against Aziz.
Zaki also gained fame when he launched a Facebook page “Let Us Build Pakistan” (LUBP) and became editor of a website devoted to working for human rights and spreading liberal religious views.
The page was recently blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
Following Zaki’s murder, Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Sial ordered a probe and sought report from police within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, protesters carried the body of Zaki to the Chief Minister’s House and staged a protest.
Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) has also announced to stage a protest demonstration outside the Chief Minister’s House.
A spokesperson of MWM said that Zaki was not only a prominent civil society activist but also a religious scholar who tended to attend programmes on various TV channels.
“For the last one year, Khurram Zaki was a target of a systematic hate campaign organised by Deobandi fanatic, Shamsuddin Amjad of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan in collaboration with the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan,” Ali Abbas Taj, LUBP’s Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement.
“In particular, hateful and violence inciting posters against Khurram Zaki had been published recently by the Mashal Facebook page run by Shamsuddin Amjad, Asad Wasif and a few other pro-Taliban fanatics of Jamaat-e-Islami,” Taj said.
After Irfan Khudi Ali of Quetta, Zaki is the second LUBP editorial team member who has been killed by “Takfiri Deobandi militants”, he said.
Zaki’s assassination came on the same day on which Karachi police announced they had arrested a prime suspect in the murder of social activist Parveen Rehman, who was killed in 2013.
Police said they had arrested Raheem Swati, a main accused with links to the Taliban in the case, from Manghopir area with arms and grenades.
Rehman, who worked tirelessly for the development of the impoverished neighbourhoods in the Orangi town, was killed in the same area while returning home.
A day after her killing police claimed to have gunned down a Taliban commander, Qari Bilal, and said he was responsible for Rehman’s death.
But the case was reopened after the Supreme Court of Pakistan on April 15, 2014, ordered the authorities to conduct a fresh probe into the social activists assassination.
Last year in September another well known social activist and rights campaigner Sabeen Mahmud was also gunned down in Defence area while returning from her office.
Her assailants are yet to be arrested by the police.