HYDERABAD – Two Taliban assailants on a motorcycle gunned down an MQM election candidate in Hyderabad on Thursday, underscoring threats to the former ruling party and other secular and political groups.

A grocer by profession, Fakhrul Islam was Muttahida’s candidate for Sindh assembly seat (PS-47, Qasimabad). He was attacked near his home at Halla Naka in Hatri Police precincts, after he left the shop he owned with his father.

He sustained four bullets in his head and abdomen and died on the spot,” according to police official Akhtar Hussain. The attackers fled the scene, leaving behind their motorcycle. His father was not injured, but police said he was in “deep shock”. Hatri Police reached the spot and shifted the body to Civil Hospital Hyderabad.

Fakhrul Islam, 46, is survived by a widow, two sons and three daughters. He was the first candidate for the elections to be assassinated and the killing was likely to fuel concerns that violence would mar the vote.

After the murder, a large number of MQM workers and sympathisers gathered outside the hospital and raised slogans. Some armed men resorted to aerial firing and mobs blocked main roads for hours by setting fire to used tyres. The fear and tension led to closure of markets in different areas including Liaquat Colony, Shahi Bazaar, Market Tower, Resham Gali and Gari Khatta.

We condemn this heinous crime and we demand that all the candidates should be provided better security by the government,” said Qamar Mansoor, a leader of MQM, which has been speaking out strongly against the militant group.

Hours later, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility and vowed to continue such attacks in future. The Taliban have threatened to attack members of the MQM because of its statements.

The way he has been killed and his father remained unhurt showed the level of precision the killers have and also their intention to target him in particular,” said MQM spokesman Wasay Jalil. “Terrorists are threatening to sabotage elections... but these terror acts will not deter us from taking part in elections and our stance against extremism and terrorism,” he added.

The MQM was once part of a coalition government led by the PPP, which came into power following the 2008 parliamentary elections after assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto. The Muttahida walked out of the coalition weeks before completion of government’s term last month and it has fielded candidates for both national and provincial assemblies.

Taliban militants in recent years have mainly targeted the ANP leaders in the northwest, killing one of its senior politicians, Bashir Bilour, in a suicide attack in December 2012 in the city of Peshawar. On March 31, the Taliban attacked the motorcade of a campaigning ANP politician with a roadside bomb in the northwestern city of Bannu, wounding him and killing two of his supporters.

But Thursday’s attack indicated the Taliban threat was not confined to northwest or Karachi as the latest attack took place some 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Karachi, the country’s financial capital where MQM enjoys major support. TTP spokesman Ahsan vowed to continue targeting the MQM, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the PPP “for working against them” when the three parties were in power from 2008 to 2013.

We carried out this attack and shot dead Islam,” spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP from an undisclosed location. He said “the killing is part of our war with secular parties including MQM, Pakistan People’s Party and Awami National Party, which committed genocide of our tribal people and Muslims while remaining in power for five years.

Staff Reporter from Islamabad adds: President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned the assassination of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader and candidate for a Sindh Provincial Assembly seat, Fakhrul Islam, who was shot dead on Thursday in Hyderabad.

The President while expressing profound grief and sorrow over the unfortunate incident has directed the concerned authorities to bring the culprits to justice at the earliest.

Expressing sympathies with the bereaved family, the President prayed to Almighty Allah to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and to give courage to the bereaved family to bear the loss with fortitude.

Prime Minister Justice (r) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has taken serious notice of the murder of Fakharul Islam, MQM candidate for the National Assembly seat from Hyderabad.

The prime minister on Thursday directed the authorities to submit a report within 24 hours about the security lapse, if any, leading to the killing of the candidate. He issued instructions that the security of all candidates participating in the general elections be beefed up to prevent such incidents.

The primer reiterated caretaker government’s resolve to hold elections and make all necessary arrangements to provide an environment conducive to polls.