LAHORE - The Punjab cabinet at a meeting on Monday set up a joint investigation committee to look into the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is recovering at Lahore’s Services Hospital.

Ahsan was shot and injured on Sunday in a suspected assassination attempt possibly linked to blasphemy, with the attack seen as an ominous sign for security ahead of nationwide elections.

The meeting, attended by provincial ministers, advisers, special assistants, chief secretary and inspector general of Punjab Police, strongly condemned the firing incident and prayed for early recovery of the federal minister.

Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who chaired the meeting, wanted the shooting to be probed by a JIT consisting of officers from police and intelligence agencies. He issued directives to constitute a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) under the additional IG of Counter-Terrorism Department, which the meeting approved with one voice.

Additional IG Rai Muhammad Tahir will head the team, which will have SSP Khalid Bashir Cheema, SP Faisal Gulzar Awan and officers one each from IB and ISI as its members. The CM said this committee will hold a complete investigation and present report to the provincial government.

Meanwhile, an anti-terror court in Gujranwala remanded the shooter in police custody for 10 days.

Ahsan, 59, was shot in the right arm as he prepared to leave a public meeting in his constituency in Punjab province. A man, identified by police as Abid Hussain and said to be in his early 20s, was wrestled to the ground by officers and bystanders as he was preparing to fire a second shot.

Before police investigators, the suspected attacker kept changing his statements.

“I was asked by saints – Data Ali Hajveri and Ghous-e-Azam – to kill Ahsan Iqbal,” Abid said in his first video statement shared by police with journalists on Monday.

During cross-questioning, the attacker said he was ‘brainwashed’ by religious leaders, including Ilyas Qadri, founder of Dawat-e-Islami, and their video recordings.

The accused also said that he used to ‘listen to recordings of Ilam Din and Amir Abdul Rehman Cheema’.

Din assassinated a publisher, Rajpal, for printing a book written against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 1929. Cheema, a 28-year-old Pakistani engineering student, attempted to murder German newspaper Die Welt editor Roger Koppel on March 20, 2006 over blasphemy.

A source in the Punjab government said: “At one point he (Abid) says he attacked the minister after being asked by his mother to follow in the footsteps of Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed and the next movement he says he was asked by saints to do so.

Abid said: “Data Gunj Bakhsh (also) asked me to kill Ahsan Iqbal. My mother used to listen to the cassettes of Ghazi Ilam Din and Amir Abdul Rehman Cheema. She told me if you are my son follow in the footsteps of Ilam Din and Amir Abdul Rehman Cheema.”

The suspect also said he was in touch with some religious leaders who also talked to him and inquired about his health.

According to Narowal deputy commissioner’s preliminary report, the attacker showed his ‘affiliation’ with Tehrik-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, a claim rejected by the religious party.

According to police interrogation report, Abid is TLYRA Youth Wing President. His wing had planned the attack on the minister at Faizabad sit-in, it is revealed.

On his revelations, the police nabbed another two persons in connection with the high profile attack. One of the arrested sold the gun and bullets to Abid for Rs20,000 and the other is the person who dropped  him at the event.

He was in contact with the organisers of the event where the minister was attacked.

Police also recovered a diary form him and other documents showing his wing’s planning to attack the suspected blasphemers.

Local deputy commissioner Ali Anan Qamar told AFP that the shooter said he was inspired by a controversy last year in which a small amendment to the oath election candidates must swear had to be hastily reversed after it was linked to blasphemy.

The row sparked a three-week sit-in last November by a previously little-known Islamist group, which paralysed the capital. That demonstration ended when the government capitulated to the protesters’ demands - including ousting of the federal law minister - in a deal brokered by the military.

At the time many Pakistanis and analysts warned that a dangerous precedent had been set in which fringe groups could bend the state to their will by citing blasphemy.

Blasphemy can be punishable by death under controversial Pakistani legislation, with even unproven allegations sparking mob lynchings and murders.

If the link to blasphemy is confirmed, and had the attempt succeeded, it would have been the second high-profile assassination of a political leader over blasphemy.

In 2011, then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a liberal who had called for reformation of the laws, was gunned down by his own bodyguard in broad daylight in Islamabad.

Hardliners have built a shrine to his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, on the outskirts of the capital.

 

 

JIT to probe gun attack as Ahsan recovers

 

 

Sajid Zia/ASHRAF JAVED