Pakistan’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal ‘out of danger’ following assassination attempt at Narowal rally

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Ahsan Iqbal Pakistan's Minister of Planning and Development speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan June 12, 2017. Picture taken June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz - RC186ED503C0

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was injured on Monday in an assassination attempt when a man opened fire at him after he had addressed a political rally in Punjab province, police said.

Iqbal, 59, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader, was hit by a bullet on his right shoulder in the attack, the police said.

His condition is stated to be out of danger.

The attacker was identified as Abid Hussain, 21, who belongs to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Yarasoolallah Pakistan (TLYP), according to a preliminary investigation.

“Doctors are operating upon Mr Iqbal to take out a bullet from his stomach. He sustained a bullet injury. The bullet after brushing his arm hit the stomach. Now doctors are conducting the operation to take out the bullet from his stomach,” Punjab minister Zaeem Qadri told reporters outside the Services Hospital in Lahore.

“The man who opened fire on the interior minister belongs to the religious outfit – TLYP. We know the motive of this attack but I want to tell that this is a very dangerous game being played against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N),” Information Minister Marrium Aurengzeb said adding that “this politics of hatred” should be stopped now.

Iqbal was leaving a venue after addressing a rally in his hometown Narowal, 150 kms from Lahore, at 6.15 pm when Hussain fired at him, injuring his arm and stomach.

A senior police officer said the suspect told investigators that he opened fire on the minister to take revenge from the ruling PML-N for trying to delete the clause related to the Khatm-e-Nabuwat (the finality of Prophet Muhammad) from the Constitution.

“The suspect belongs to a religious family and is a worker of the TLYP. We are interrogating him to find out whether he acted alone or at the behest of someone,” he said.

“The moment Hussain opened the fire on the interior minister the PML-N workers present there grabbed him and gave him a sound thrashing before handing him over to the police,” police officer Imran Kishwar said, adding that the security personnel did not get a chance to throw a cover around the minister to protect him.

Iqbal’s son confirmed that his father is out of danger.

The attacker fired with a 30-bore pistol from a distance of around 18 metres. He was about to fire a second shot when he was apprehended, police said, adding that the weapon has been recovered.

Punjab Assembly lawmaker Rana Manan said Iqbal was about to sit in his vehicle when the attacker fired at him.

TLYP is a radical Islamic party which is known for its widespread street power and massive protests against any change to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

The attack on the interior minister highlights the issue of security of high-profile politicians ahead of the election scheduled to be held after June.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa condemned the attack.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto and other Pakistan Peoples Party leaders also condemned the attack, as did Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan.

Iqbal was once seen as a potential prime minister when Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court last year.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif described the incident as an “assassination attempt”.

A couple of months ago Iqbal had also faced a shoe-attack in his hometown. However the man who hurled the shoe was arrested and later freed after Iqbal pardoned him. The suspect then claimed that he committed the act because he was upset with the PML-N government over the change to the offending clause in the Constitution.

Similarly, ousted prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and former foreign minister Khwaja Asif also faced shoe and ink attacks in Lahore and Sialkot, a couple of months ago.

Their attackers were also members of the TLYP who alleged that the PML-N leadership had committed blasphemy by changing the constitutional clause which had provoked the attacks.

Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in 2011 by his own police guard who confessed that he killed him because of his opposition to the blasphemy law.