KARACHI: Acclaimed Sufi singer and qawwali maestro Amjad Sabri was shot dead by motorcycle-borne gunmen in a central Karachi neighbourhood on Wednesday, triggering an outpouring of grief nationwide.
The targeted killing came two days after masked men kidnapped the son of Sindh’s top judge from outside a supermarket in broad daylight in an upscale locality of the city.
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Amjad Sabri, aged around 45, was travelling from his home to a television studio to attend an iftar transmission, when a motorcycle pulled up alongside his white coloured Honda Civic and the two riders opened fire, according to police.
Sabri had hardly travelled a kilometre after leaving his house in the Liaquatabad neighbourhood when the gunmen targeted him. Another person travelling with him remained unhurt in the attack that also left a passerby woman injured.
Witnesses gave a slightly different account. “The motorcycle-riding attackers pulled up in front of Sabri’s car right in the middle of the road at Liaquatabad underpass,” a shopkeeper in the neighbourhood told The Express Tribune.
“One of them pulled out a gun from a black handbag. He fired shots into the air before turning his gun on the car,” said the shopkeeper who didn’t want to be identified by name. One attacker was wearing a helmet, while the other had his face covered with a handkerchief. They fled unidentified and unchallenged towards Hassan Square.
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Grisly mobile phone footage of the crime scene shot by an onlooker and shared on social media showed Sabri’s head slumped on his right shoulder and a pool of blood on the ground by the driver’s side where he sat.
“Our preliminary examination shows he was shot thrice in the head, face and chest,” said Dr Rohina Hassan, the additional police surgeon at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital where Sabri was taken after a private hospital in Nazimabad confirmed his death. “Sabri’s family was in shock. They did not allow us to perform post-mortem on the body,” Dr Rohina said.
Police investigators found nearly half a dozen bullet casings at the crime scene which were subsequently sent for forensic examination. According to investigators, 9mm pistol was used in most previous targeted attacks, but assassins used a 30 bore pistol to target Sabri – which is rare.
“Our preliminary investigation shows that the attackers followed Sabri from his home,” said District Central police chief SSP Muqaddas Haider. “It was a targeted killing and an act of terrorism,” Haider said, without naming possible suspects. However, police mounted a crackdown after the killing and detained around a dozen suspects for questioning. Police investigators could not get any help from CCTV cameras installed at the crime scene because all of them are out of order.
MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar and colleagues said Sabri was receiving life threats, but the Karachi police spokesperson said the qawwali maestro had never reported any threats.
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Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah suspended a DSP and an SHO over the high-profile killing, while the MQM announced three-day mourning across the province.
Sabri’s killing was met with shock and condemnation. Friends, artistes, singers and fans congregated outside his home to offer condolences to his family, while TV channels broadcast recordings of his music in tribute.
The tragic killing left the family devastated. “My brother never wronged anyone. Why he was killed?” Sabri’s younger brother Talha Sabri said choking on his tears. “The Rangers and police have failed [to maintain peace] in Karachi,” he added. “If a person like my brother can be killed like this, what worst we can expect in this city.”
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was grieved and anguished by Sabri’s killing which, he said, was an open challenge to the law and order and writ of the state.
“First the kidnapping of Awais Shah, son of the sitting chief justice of the Sindh High Court, and now the ghastly assassination of Amjad Sabri are part of a sinister conspiracy as both incidents appeared professionally organised by terrorist elements and their sponsors,” he said in a statement.
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PM Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the assassination of Sabri and directed the concerned to find the culprits and bring them to book. According to his office, the prime minister paid tribute to the services of the late Amjad Sabri for promotion of qawwali.
In May 2014 he was asked by a court to respond to blasphemy charges following the airing of a controversial song-and-dance routine that was set to a Qawwali piece about the wedding of the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) daughter to his cousin.
Amjad Sabri, 45, was the scion of the great Sabri brothers, who cemented a unique identity in Qawwali singing all around the world.
The Sabri family rose to fame in the 1970s when the dynamic duo of Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri went on to redefining the old genre of Qawwali singing.
It was Amjad who took the reins from his father Ghulam Farid and Uncle Maqbool Sabri and took the family name forward carving a more popular and less niche identity for himself and his family.
Some of the most famous works of the Sabri brothers include Tajdar-e-Haram and Bhar Do Jholi, both of which have been re-rendered by Amjad for the modern audiences.
One thing that always stood out about Amjad was that despite hailing from a family of musicians, he never restricted his contributions to the music industry at large and always remained a seminal part of artist’s protests, celebrations at large.
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In his last conversation with The Express Tribune, the late Qawwal was very excited about his song in the upcoming season of Coke Studio. His loss has been felt beyond borders, ideologies and art forms.
The lineup of Coke Studio 9 was supposed to be officially revealed today but has been held back due to the musician’s sad demise.
Sabri was embroiled in a controversy last year when he claimed that Bajrangi Bhaijaan violated copyrights by using the qawwali Bhar Do Jholi without obtaining the rights.
The singer had said that he intended to file a case against the film’s director, Kabir Khan, and the playback singer for using the song without his permission.
MQM announces three days of mourning
The MQM has announced three days of mourning in the wake of Sabri’s murder in Karachi.
MQM will halt all political activities during the mourning days and has requested the business community to wear black band on their arms, said a statement.
Qawwali maestro shot dead in Karachi
Meanwhile, party convener Nadeem Nusrat has alleged Sabri was asked to join the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and was threatened when he rejected the request.
After the episode, Sabri had requested for adequate security, he added.
TTP claims responsibility
A splinter Pakistani Taliban group claimed responsibility for the killing.
Qari Saifullah, spokesperson of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Hakeemullah group called tribal journalists to claim responsibility.
However, there was no independent verification of the claim.