A Shia cleric and his wife were shot and injured on Wednesday by unknown assailants in Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, police confirmed.
It remains unclear whether the shooting was a sectarian attack or motivated by personal enmity.
The secretary general of the AJK chapter of Majlis Wehdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Allama Tasawwar al Jawadi, 38, was on his way to visit his in-laws in the town of Garhi Dupatta along with his wife, 32, when their motorcycle was intercepted by a black Corolla.
As their bike reached Rawani, the assailants fired five gunshots at him, police and the cleric's relatives said.
The car sped away from the scene immediately afterwards.
Police said they could not immediately confirm whether the shooting was a sectarian attack or driven by personal enmity.
Rescue 1122 rushed to the scene after an anonymous person called 15, police said. Upon arriving, rescue officials transferred the injured to Muzaffarabad's Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahayan Hospital.
Jawadi had received a bullet in his neck and is in critical condition, DIG Sardar Gulfraz Khan told Dawn.
The DIG added that his wife had also received bullet injuries, but was out of danger.
“At the moment, he [Jawadi] is being operated upon,” he said.
Jawadi’s brother-in-law, Tasawwur Moosvi, claimed that the black car had been chasing him from Manik Pehan camp and had finally intercepted him near Rawani Bridge.
“My brother-in-law had no personal enmity with anyone,” Moosvi said, adding that Jawadi had been receiving threatening text messages for some time.
“This is a conspiracy to drive the peaceful region of Azad Kashmir towards sectarian riots,” Moosvi claimed.
However, DIG Khan said it would be premature to jump to any conclusion.
“We would be able to give a statement only after investigations are completed,” he said.
He said police had immediately established blockades at all entry and exit points of Azad Kashmir to ensure that the attackers do not flee the area.
Demonstrations were held in different parts of Muzaffarabad and roads were blocked following the incident.
Jamiat Ahle-Hadith condemned the attack on Jawadi and called upon the government to take action against those creating unrest in the peaceful region of AJK.
“Our region has been enjoying exemplary religious harmony, and it is the national obligation of all segments of society to maintain this atmosphere at all costs,” said Daniyal Shahab, secretary general of Jamiat Ahle-Hadith, in a statement.