In what appeared to be an assassination attempt, former prime minister Imran Khan was shot at and injured on Thursday evening when a suspect, standing in front of the container carrying the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief and senior party leaders, showered a volley of bullets with an automatic pistol when the paraty’s ‘Haqaaqi Azadi’ march reached Wazirabad’s Allahwala Chowk.
It later transpired that a PTI supporter, identified as Muazzam Nawaz, had lost his life, while 14 party leaders and workers, including Senator Faisal Javed Khan, MNA Ahmad Nasir Chattha and Omer Mayar, were among the injured.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan, who sustained multiple bullet injuries in his leg, was reported to be stable and shifted to Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore. Other injured were shifted to local hospitals for immediate treatment. Mr Khan was operated upon and pellets removed from his thigh and shin.
Later after his operation at Shaukat Khanum, the PTI chairman said he was fine and expressed the resolve that the long march would continue and reach Islamabad. “I will not bow down, but stay determined to bring Haqeeqi Azadi for my fellow Pakistanis,” PTI official media quoted him as saying, adding the march would resume from Wazirabad at 11am on Friday (today).
The PTI had resumed its long march from Wazirabad on Thursday afternoon on the seventh day of the movement and was reportedly targeted at around 4:15pm. The march was suspended for the day on the instructions of the injured party chairman.
Witnesses claimed the suspected assailant fired an entire round of the bullet magazine and was trying to load a second when a PTI supporter, Ibtisam, instantly overpowered him from behind. The suspect was later arrested and taken to a local police station.
The attack, being deemed “targeted”, triggered widespread condemnation from across the political divide.
PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry alleged it was “a planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan and he escaped narrowly”, claiming an automatic weapon was used.
Mr Chaudhry tweeted: “It was a well-planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan. The assassin planned to kill Imran Khan and leadership of PTI. It was not 9MM, it was a burst from automatic weapon. No two opinions that it was narrow escape.”
From atop the leading container in the long march, a highly charged Chaudhry had immediately after the incident called it an attack on Pakistan and its people, and asked the party workers and supporters across the country to seek revenge.
“The assailant had aimed at Imran Khan, but two march participants sensed danger and pushed the pistol down that averted a major disaster,” he stated.
PTI Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid also warned the establishment that “Imran Khan is our red line and now you have crossed the line”. She tweeted: “You cannot deter us. You cannot! We will take you to task.”
The suspected assailant arrested from the crime scene claimed in a video statement apparently leaked by the police claimed he had planned to kill Mr Khan when the long march started from Lahore. “I tried my best to kill him only and no one else because he was misguiding people,” he said. The suspect, who earlier served a jail term in a theft case, also claimed he acted alone and planned the conspiracy himself.
Imran blames govt, military officials
Later, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar in a video statement said Mr Khan was safe and had conveyed a message that he had prior information about the attack on his life, holding three senior government and military officials responsible for it. He went on to say that “PTI chief Imran Khan demanded [the trio] be removed from their offices otherwise a country-wide protest would be launched”. He asked workers to wait for the next protest call by the party chief.
Punjab senior minister Mian Aslam Iqbal, accompanying Mr Umar, said an FIR would be lodged against the three officials named by Mr Khan, adding an application and statement was being submitted to the Punjab police chief.
Later, the electronic media watchdog barred TV channels from running Mr Umar’s statement, saying in a statement: “Broadcasting of such content is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security is a serious violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and Section 27 of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 as well as Electronic Media Code of Conduct 2015.”
Mr Khan’s former wife Jemima Goldsmith lauded the PTI supporter who overpowered the suspected assailant. She tweeted “hero” along with a picture of the man. She also thanked God the former premier was alright. Later, Mr Khan is said to have spoken to his children in the UK and assured them he was safe.
Hamza, a DJ responsible for the sound system during the march, told a news channel that he was on the container and saw three people firing on the vehicle. “A shooter standing on the terrace of a nearby building was carrying a big gun,” he said, adding several people were injured and refuted the notion that it was the work of one person carrying a pistol on the ground.
The Punjab police late on Thursday claimed a suspected person, who fired shots at the former premier in Wazirabad, had been detained. Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Faisal Shahkar directed the Counter-Terrorism Department, and the Gujrat regional and district police officers to conduct investigations into the incident to bring true facts before the people.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi directed the IGP to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe into the attack on Mr Khan. He also took notice of the purported leak of the arrested suspect’s video statement and suspended the entire staff of the police station concerned.
Mr Elahi along with his son Moonis also reached Shaukat Khanum hospital and inquired after Mr Khan. In a video message from the hospital, Mr Elahi said Imran Khan was fine and committed to his mission of ‘real independence’. He said the JIT would investigate the motives behind the attack and identify those who trained the assailant.
Refuting that the assailant acted alone, the CM claimed two people were involved and vowed that all those responsible and the perpetrators behind the “conspiracy” would be taken to task. He said he had suspended the entire police station where the arrested suspect’s statement was leaked from.
“The cell phones of all policemen have been confiscated and handed over to the forensic department for analysis and information on who was in contact and where,” he added.
Moreover, Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi also visited him in the hospital.
Report from interior minister
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned the Wazirabad attack and sought a report from the interior minister.
In a series of tweets, the PM prayed for early recovery and health of the PTI chairman and other injured people and condemned the firing. Seeking a report from the interior minister, the prime minister stated the federal government would extend all support necessary to the Punjab government for security and investigation. “Violence should have no place in our country’s politics,” he maintained.