ISLAMABAD: Salman Taseer, the flamboyant and high-profile Governor of Punjab, was gunned down here on Tuesday by one of his security guards.
The guard, Mumtaz Qadri of the Punjab Elite Force, yelled out ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ and emptied two magazines of an SMG on the governor in the Kohsar Market before surrendering himself.
He later explained that he had killed Mr Taseer because of his recent criticism of the blasphemy law.
The governor had arrived here in the morning. After visiting the Presidency and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, late in the afternoon, Mr Taseer, who was staying with a relative in Sector F-6/3, went to Kohsar Market which is home to some of the city’s popular cafes.
He was accompanied by over a dozen guards, including nine personnel of the Elite Force.
According to a police officer, the governor went into a restaurant and when he came out after having a meal Qadri shot at him.
The guard is said to have fired at Mr Taseer from the back when he was going to the parking area.
According to police, he emptied his gun, loaded it with another magazine and fired a second round of 30 bullets at the governor.
The governor fell on the road and, by most accounts, died on the spot. The guard put his gun down on the ground and was taken into custody.
Kohsar police reached the spot soon afterwards and took all the guards and the security squad into custody.
Dawn has learnt that police are searching for a man Mr Taseer had met in the market. He went missing after the assassination.
The governor was taken to the Federal Government Services Hospital, but was pronounced dead. The security squad was taken to the police station for interrogation.
While questions were raised about why the rest of the security guards did not stop Qadri from opening fire, they told police during interrogation that they were taken by surprise and once they figured out what was happening they feared that if they used their guns they too would be suspected of being involved in the murder.
As the news of the assassination spread, PPP leaders present in the capital visited the hospital where the body was being kept.
Distraught leaders spoke of the loss his death would bring to the party. Leaders of other parties, including the PML-N, also visited the hospital.
For the rest of the evening, the focus remained on the assassination, the reaction to it and the investigation process being carried out at the Kohsar Market.
The quiet corner of Islamabad, which is often likened by visitors to a European town square and is frequented by foreigners, was crawling with policemen, journalists and others.
Political activity too came to a halt in the capital as a deadline announced by PLM-N leader Nawaz Sharif minutes before the assassination was forgotten in the commotion and despair that spread in the wake of the murder.
Fear was writ large on the faces and voices of most of the leaders who spoke to the media about the killing.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik was the first official to confirm that the governor’s death was the work of his own security guard, who had confessed that he had been ‘instigated’ by Mr Taseer recently dubbing the blasphemy law as a black law.
“He was stationed in Rawalpindi and used to be part of the governor’s security during his visits to Pindi and Islamabad. He had been on the governor’s guard duty at least three times. His name is Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.
“It is yet to be determined if this was an individual act or others were also involved.”
The body was later taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences for an autopsy, which concluded that the governor had been hit by 40 bullets — 26 were lodged in the body and 14 had exited.
After the autopsy, the body was taken to Lahore for burial from Chakala Air Base in a C-130 aircraft.
An FIR had not been registered till late in the night.
Recently a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. Mr Taseer emerged as one of her most high-profile supporters.
He not only visited her in jail and held a press conference with her, but also promised to get a presidential pardon for her.
Although the pardon was prevented by a court order and the PPP distanced itself from any attempt to amend the blasphemy law, Mr Taseer kept criticising it publicly.
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari asked the interior minister to supervise the investigation.
According to his spokesman Farhatullah Babar, the president described the assassination as “ghastly” and said that no words were strong enough to condemn it and that the perpetrators of the heinous crime must be punished.
The minister set up a joint investigation team (JIT) to ascertain whether the assassination was the act of an individual or the result of a conspiracy.
The JIT, headed by Deputy Inspector-General of Islamabad Police Bani Amin, comprises officials of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau and the Special Branch of police.
Following the orders of the president, Mr Malik arrived here from Karachi and asked the JIT to present its report in 24 hours.
According to sources, the squad of Elite Force deputed on Tuesday had been provided by Rawalpindi police whose security guards the governor used whenever he came to Islamabad.
As the Pakistan People’s Party announced a three-day mourning, the president asked its leaders to limit functions in connection with PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 83rd birth anniversary on Wednesday to holding seminars at the district, divisional and provincial levels.
The president asked Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and MNA Faryal Talpur to attend the funeral on his behalf. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will also attend the funeral.
In his condolence message President Zardari described Mr Taseer as endowed with great courage and energy. “He faced the vicissitudes of life with composure, resilience and courage.”