Imran Khan shot at protest rally in Pakistan, aides say

Imran Khan shot at protest rally in Pakistan, aides say


ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s leading opposition figure, Imran Khan, is accusing top government officials of orchestrating Thursday’s attack in which he was shot in the foot during a protest march and slightly injured, party officials said.

A gunman opened fire on a truck carrying the former prime minister and several other party officials who were taking part in a protest convoy. The attack took place near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters were marching.

In a statement relayed to local broadcasters by Asad Umar, a senior leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Khan said “he has already received some information and can say with authority” that Pakistan’s prime minister, interior minister and senior Pakistani intelligence official was behind the attack.

“Khan demands that these three people be removed from their offices,” Umar said in a statement to local media. “If they are not replaced, there will be a national protest. We will not allow Pakistan to be run like this. Our protest will continue until these three people are removed.”

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah called the allegations baseless. “They have no evidence and are just making these false accusations for their own political interests,” he said. Sanaullah said that Khan’s party was spreading “extremist views” that were resonating with Khan and his supporters.

“Remember, you too can become a target of that hatred,” he said. “Please stop this, it will only fuel more violence.”

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

A video of the attack released by Khan’s office showed party leaders on top of a bus ducking for cover as a volley of gunfire rang out over music playing from the crowd.

“Khan was shot in the foot, but his condition is stable,” Umar told local Pakistani television ARY News. He said that the former leader is undergoing treatment in Lahore. “Five to six other party leaders, who were on top of the truck with Khan, were also injured. One person is in serious condition,” he said.

The attack added to the escalating hostilities between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan’s supporters and members of his party are describing it as an assassination attempt, allegations that Pakistan’s leadership says are attempts to politicize the shooting and incite unrest.

In a video confession released by local police, the alleged shooter said he acted alone and did not mention a political motivation for the attack. The man, who was not named in the video, said he shot Khan because loud music was playing during the march at the same time as the Muslim call to prayer, which many conservative Muslims consider disrespectful.

“I tried to kill him. I really tried to kill him, only and only Imran Khan and no one else,” the man said in a video broadcast by several Pakistani media outlets. “It was my sudden decision,” he said, suggesting it was not a planned attack. “No one was behind me, and no one was with me. I acted alone, and no one came with me.”

Addressing the nation, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb condemned the incident and called for calm.

“The killer has given his reasons for trying to kill Khan, so there is no need for politics to interfere in this matter,” she said. She called the assassination attempt allegations “very unfortunate” and said: “I am asking you to refrain from making such irresponsible statements unless and until the investigation is completed.”

Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote this year, but has since built popular support across the country with large rallies calling government officials corrupt and foreign stooges.

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

Pakistan bans Imran Khan from politics, sparking unrest

Khan came under increasing pressure from the Pakistani government as his popular protest movement grew. Several court cases have been opened against him, including one under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. On Friday, Pakistan’s spy chief made a rare public statement accusing Khan of seeking “illegal and unconstitutional” support from the military.

Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, who rarely appears in public, announced the allegations at a heated press conference. He said Khan sought favors from the military during his time in power, but did not specify what Khan sought.

Khan’s party has denied any wrongdoing.

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

George reported from Kabul.

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