Prominent religious leader and scholar Maulana Aslam Sheikhupuri and his driver were gunned down when assailants on two motorcycles opened fire on the cleric’s car on Sunday afternoon in what was termed a sectarian killing.
Two security guards, accompanying the 54-year-old cleric – who belonged to the Deoband school of thought – were also wounded in the attack which took place at 1 pm near Rangoonwala Hall in the Dhoraji area, which falls within the New Town police precincts.
Witnesses told The Express Tribune that six armed men, riding two motorcycles, intercepted the green Toyota Corolla and sprayed it with bullets. They added that Maulana Sheikhupuri was sitting in the front seat. “The car was attacked from three sides,” said a nearby flower-vendor.
New Town police have registered an FIR against the six unidentified men on the complaint of Maulana Shaikupuri’s relative Mehmoodul Hassan. East Zone DIG Captain (retd) Tahir Naveed has constituted an investigation team which will submit the report in three days. Although the police have collected evidence and initiated investigations, they were unable to ascertain the actual motive behind the murder or trace the culprits. SHO Inam Hussain Junejo revealed that the assailants used 9mm pistols in what seemed like a “sectarian-based” attack.
The assailants reportedly managed to escape, speeding towards the Stadium Road after spraying the car with at least one dozen bullets. All four victims were taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre where Maulana Sheikhupuri and the driver succumbed to their injuries. Doctors termed the condition of the injured security guards critical.
Following the religious leader’s death, a score of his followers reached the hospital and raised slogans against rival groups. His associates contended that the attackers belonged to a “rival sectarian group”. In reaction to the killing, tension prevailed in parts of the city as armed men also resorted to indiscriminate firing but no other casualty was reported till the filing of this report. Maulana Sheikhupuri, who hailed from Shaikhupura, was the prayer leader of Masjid-o-Madrassa Tawabeen in Gulshan-e-Maymar. He had also been associated with the Jamia Binoria for about 25 years. Maulana Yousuf Ludhianvi, Maulana Mohammad Yousuf Banori, Maulana Mufti Ahmedur Rehman were some of his teachers.
MQM condemns killings
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain condemned the killings, terming it part of a conspiracy to ignite sectarian strife in the city.
Altaf appealed to religious scholars belonging to different schools of thought to maintain religious harmony and asked them not to give up patience under any circumstances, through a statement.
Deobandi leaders’ reaction
Meanwhile, angry clerics at various Deobandi madrassas threatened the government with “dire consequences” if authorities fail to trace and penalise the culprits.
“Our young men are running out of patience,” said a statement by Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia (WMA), an umbrella organisation for more than 12,000 Deobandi seminaries across Pakistan.
“The silence of the government and law enforcement agencies on the killings of ulemas (religious leaders) is shameful. We will be forced to take necessary steps if the killers are not arrested,” added the statement issued by WMA President Maulana Salimullah Khan.
Earlier this year, two prominent religious leaders belonging to the Deoband school of thought were targeted in the same manner. Police were able to arrest the attackers who allegedly belonged to a rival sectarian group known for its involvement in the killings of religious leaders.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ZIA KHAN FROM ISLAMABAD)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.