Prominent religious scholar, Mufti Taqi Usmani, on Friday survived an attempt on his life while his police guard and a religious scholar were shot dead in a suspected targeted attack near Karachi's Nipa flyover.
The police saw the attack as a conspiracy to sabotage peace in the city and trigger chaos in the country.
Taqi Usmani, belonging to the famous Darul Uloom Korangi seminary, was travelling along with his family in a car while another car belonging to his close aide was following behind.
When they descended from the ramp while coming from Rashid Minhas Road towards University Road, four gunmen riding two motorcycles opened indiscriminate firing on his vehicle at NIPA (now NIM) roundabout.
Mufti Usmani survived the attempt on his life. However, his police guard, Mohammed Farooq, was critically wounded.
The suspects also attacked the other car, resulting in bullet injuries to the driver, Sanober Khan, and a religious scholar, Maulana Amir Shahabuddin, belonging to the same seminary.
The incident occurred at around 12:30pm.
Raja Umer Khattab of Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said that the attackers engaged both vehicles at the same time, the initial probe had revealed.
Two gunmen attacked Mufti Usmani’s car from the right side and behind, resulting in injuries to both his police guard and the driver. Mufti was sitting on the rear seat along with his family members.
Two other gunmen opened fire on the car behind from the left side, resulting in bullet injuries to its driver and the religious scholar. The vehicle hit a vendor and stopped after hitting a Chhipa ambulance space at NIPA.
Mufti’s driver despite being injured managed to proceed to Liaquat National Hospital where the police guard, Farooq, was pronounced as dead.
The critically injured, Sanober Khan, 38, and Maulana Amir, 48, were transported to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre where the doctors pronounced the former as dead on arrival, said Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director of the hospital.
Sanober received five bullet wounds on his chest while Amir sustained multiple bullet wounds on his chest and head and was put on a ventilator, added Dr. Jamali.
The constable guard, Farooq, who was in a civilian dress and whose body was later on brought to the JPMC to fulfil legal formalities, received six bullet injuries on his chest and face, said Police Surgeon Dr Qarar Ahmed Abbasi.
Police investigators collected 14 spent bullet casings fired from 9mm pistols from the crime scene, said Gulshan Superintendent of Police Tahir Noorani.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Amir Farooqi confirmed that a bystander had also sustained injuries in the attack. He further confirmed that bullet shells of 9mm pistol have been collected from the crime scene, whereas closed-circuit TV (CCTV) camera footage and other evidence are being analysed.
Karachi police chief Dr Amir Shaikh verified that Mufti Usmani and his wife were in one of the cars targeted. He added that Mufti Usmani remained unhurt in the attack.
Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a "strongly worded condemnation "of the incident and expressed his anguish at the killings of Mufti Usmani's guards.
"Scholars such as Mufti Usmani are assets to the country and the Islamic world," he said in a statement released by the PM House. "Provincial government should ensure the security of religious scholars."
The prime minister labelled the attack on Mufti Usmani a "deep and disgusting conspiracy" and ordered that "all possible measures be taken to expose it".
Karachi police chief, Additional Inspector General (AIG) Dr Amir Ahmed Shaikh told Dawn that as per their initial assessment, the motive appeared to be bigger than sectarianism or terrorism.
Mufti Taqi Usmani is a "towering personality" who commands respect all over the country, he said. He believed that the suspects’ real target was Mufti Usmani himself.
“The motive appeared to have been to create chaos in Karachi and the country as well,” said the city police chief.
He pointed out that militants of certain sectarian outfits have become "active" recently but they targeted "low-profile persons with a particular background".
AIG Shaikh said that the city has recently suffered terror acts, which were ‘sponsored’ by foreign elements aimed at spoiling the relatively peaceful atmosphere in the metropolis.
However, he said in today’s incident, they saw a ‘bigger conspiracy’ to trigger chaos in the city and the country.
AIG Shaikh pointed out that the Sindh home department had established a ‘threat assessment committee’ on the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, comprising representatives of all law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies.
He believed that Mufti Usmani was attacked as he was a "soft target".
Mufti Usmani was provided only two police guards because he had not received any threat.
In contrast to Mufti Usmani, there were certain religious scholars in the city who have been provided protection of up to five police vehicles owing to threats.
Those who withdrew security 'equally responsible'
Wifaqul Madaris Al Arabia, Pakistan, an organisation of all seminaries in the country, in a statement said that the assassination attempt on Mufti Usmani was regrettable and condemnable and the nation must be informed of the motive behind the attack. It urgently called for the elements and network behind it to be taken to task.
“It is a matter of concern that a non-controversial and highly educated personality was attacked,” read the statement.
Leaders of Wifaqul Madaris namely Maulana Dr Abdul Razzak Askander, Maulana Anwarul Haq, Mufti Mohammed Rafi Usmani (elder brother of Taqi Usmani) and Maulana Mohammed Hanif Jalandhri held those persons as equally responsible for such an attack who had withdrawn security from religious personalities and institutions.
They urged the government to provide ‘reasonable security’ to important religious personalities and religious institutions to save the country from anarchy and mischief.
Mufti Taqi Usmani, born in India in 1943, is the son of Mufti Azam Pakistan, Mohammed Shafi Usmani, an active member of Pakistan movement.
He is both vice president of Darul Uloom Karachi and Fiqa academy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He had also served as a judge of the federal shariat court.
Additionally, he is the advisor of eight banks for Islamic banking in the country.