ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A prominent Pakistani Shi’ite Muslim cleric has been shot dead in an apparent reprisal attack following the murder this month of a Sunni Muslim leader, police said on Monday.
Sectarian violence has been on the rise in Pakistan, adding to the list of concerns for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a time when security forces are already stretched fighting an escalating Taliban insurgency in the northwest of the country.
Allama Nasir Abbas, leader of Tehreek Nifaz Fiqah-e-Jafaria, a banned Shi’ite organisation, was shot by unknown gunmen on a motorbike as he drove home after addressing a religious gathering in the city of Lahore on Sunday evening.
“It’s a targeted attack. The gunmen shot him from close range when he was driving home along with his driver and a friend,” Lahore police chief Chaudhry Shafeeq told Reuters.
“Abbas died on the way to hospital. His driver and friend were unhurt.”
On December 6, Maulana Shamsur Rehman, the Punjab province leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a Sunni organisation, was shot dead as he left a mosque in Lahore.
Shi’ite Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population. More than 800 Shi’ites have been killed in attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.
But tit-for-tat sectarian killings are relatively rare in Lahore, the political and cultural capital of Pakistan and Sharif’s home town.
Reporting By Syed Raza Hassan Editing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Robert Birsel