Imran Khan shot at Pakistan protest rally, say associates


ISLAMABAD – Imran Khan, a leading Pakistani opposition figure, has been accused of masterminding Thursday’s attack in which he was shot in the leg and slightly wounded during a protest, party officials said.

A gunman opened fire on a truck carrying the former prime minister and several other party representatives. The attack took place near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters had marched.

In a statement by Asad Umar, a senior leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, to local television stations, Khan said, “He has already received some information and that he is the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Interior Minister and a senior Pakistani intelligence officer was behind the attack.

“Khan is demanding the dismissal of these three people,” Umar said in a statement to local broadcasters. “If they are not fired, there will be a nationwide protest. We will not allow Pakistan to rule like this. Our protest action will continue until these three people are removed from office.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah called the allegations baseless. “They don’t have any evidence and are making these false accusations only for their political interests,” he said. According to Sanaullah, Khan’s party has been spreading new “extremist views” against Khan and his supporters.

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“Don’t forget, you can be the target of that hate,” he said. “Stop it, it invites more violence.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the shooting in a statement on Thursday and ordered an inquiry.

In videos of the attack released by Khan’s office, party leaders can be seen hiding on top of a bus to the sound of gunshots as music blares from the crowd.

“Khan was hit in the leg, but his condition is stable,” Umar told Pakistan’s local ARY News. According to him, the former leader is undergoing treatment in Lahore. “Five or six other party leaders who were on the truck with Khan were also injured. One person is in a serious condition,” he said.

The attack escalated hostilities between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan’s supporters and members of his party described it as an assassination attempt, while the Pakistani leadership said the shooting was an attempt to politicize and incite unrest.

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In a video released by local police, the suspected shooter said he acted alone and did not mention a political motive for the attack. An unnamed man in the video said he fired at Khan because loud music was being played during the march at the same time as the Muslim call to prayer, which many conservative Muslims saw as disrespectful.

“I tried to kill him. I really tried to kill him, just Imran Khan, no one else,” he said in a video broadcast by several Pakistani news agencies. “It was a sudden decision on my part,” he said, adding that it was not a planned attack. “There was no one behind me, no one was with me. I was playing alone, no one came with me.”

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb in her address to the nation condemned the incident and called for peace.

“The shooter explained why he tried to kill Khan, so there is no need to involve politics in this issue,” he said. He called the assassination attempt “very unfortunate” and said, “Please refrain from such irresponsible statements until the investigation is complete.”

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Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote this year, but has since been gaining support across the country with massive rallies criticizing government officials as corrupt and calling them foreign puppets.

Last week, Khan began a march towards the country’s capital, Islamabad, demanding early elections. He promised that the march would culminate in the biggest demonstration in Pakistan’s history.

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As his popular protest movement grew, Khan came under pressure from the Pakistani government. Several cases have been filed against him, including one under Pakistan’s anti-terror law. On Friday, a Pakistani spy made a rare public statement accusing Khan of seeking “illegal and unconstitutional” support from the military.

Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, who rarely appears in public, announced such accusations at a heated press conference. He said Khan asked for favors from the military when he was in power, but Khan did not specify what he asked for.

Khan’s party has denied any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s military is considered the most powerful force in the country, but senior security forces leaders are rarely involved in politics.

George reported from Kabul.


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