• PTI supporter killed, 14 others, including lawmakers, injured as shots fired at container carrying party leadership
• Asad conveys Imran’s message blaming govt, military officials for attack
• Alleged assassin thwarted by activists, in custody; claims ‘sole responsibility’
• Fawad calls it attack on Pakistan, its people; asks workers, supporters to seek revenge
• Protests break out across country
LAHORE: 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 party’s ‘Haqeeqi 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, 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 that 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.
Sources say the Gujranwala city police officer had already issued a threat alert on Nov 1 that the VIP security provided to Mr Khan needed to be beefed up and suggested bullet-proof shield, rostrum and stage be used on the container.
“Bullet-proof shield, bullet-proof rostrum along with a screen has reached Gujranwala and needed to be installed on the container for the protection of Imran Khan,” the threat alert stated.
Gujrat Regional Police Officer Dr Akhtar Abbas told reporters they had already asked the march organizers since they started in Lahore to use a bullet-proof rostrum and shield. He added the Punjab government had constituted a team comprising district police and counter terrorism department officials for an investigation.
Soon after Thursday’s attack, Senator Ejaz Chaudhry tweeted that he had already warned Chattha that a life-attempt would be made on the party chief in Wazirabad. He also alleged the “imported government” was involved in the attack, while Asad Umar also pointed fingers at the ruling PML-N over the incident.
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.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also strongly condemned the attack on former prime minister Khan and his party leaders. Riyadh shared its statement on Twitter, denouncing the “attempted assassination”.
Mr Trudeau tweeted the attack was “completely unacceptable”, and strongly condemned the violence. “It has no place in politics, in any democracy, or in our society. I’m wishing a speedy recovery to Imran and all, who were injured today.”
Immediately after the attack on Mr Khan, PTI leaders and supporters took to the streets in cities across the country to condemn the incident. Punjab Local Government Minister Mehmoodur Rasheed led a protest at Liberty Chowk, while demonstrations were also held outside Shaukat Khanum hospital, Shahdara Chowk, GPO Chowk, The Mall, outside Governor House, Ferozepur Road, Babu Sabu Interchange where protesters burned tyres and blocked roads.
In Karachi, protests were held from power house intersection to 4K intersection where the service road was closed for traffic, at 5-Star intersection, a sit-in at Teen Talwar and at Native Jetty Bridge where pro-Imran slogans were raised.
In Rawalpindi’s Faizabad area, a huge protest was held where people burnt tyres, shouted anti-government and pro-Imran Khan slogans, blocked Murree Road. In Faisalabad, a huge protest was held at Jinnah Colony Chowk on Narwala Road. Another one led by PTI leader Farrukh Habib was held near Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s house where protesters damaged a lion statue.
In Peshawar, protesters gathered outside the Corps Commander House and shouted slogans for ‘independence’. In Imran Khan’s hometown of Mianwali, MNA Amjad Ali Khan led a protest along with District General Secretary Ameer Khan at Dattakhel Chowk as the road was blocked and people raised anti-government slogans and burned tires.
Similar protests were held in Hafizabad; Kotli and Muzaffarabad in AJK, Gilgit, Multan, Ahmedpur East, Chanigoth, Uch Sharif, Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Pindigheb, Jahanian, Buner, Lodhran, Bajaur, Parachinar, Swabi, Kohat, Timergara and Gojra.
Waseem Ashraf Butt in Gujrat also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2022