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File photo shows Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain. The MQM said Fakhrul Islam had been targeted deliberately and accused “terrorists” of trying to sabotage a peaceful democratic process.— File Photo

HYDERABAD: A grocer set to contest next month’s general elections was shot dead by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on Thursday in a drive-by killing in the southern city of Hyderabad, the first such assassination before the historic polls on May 11.

Fakhrul Islam, 46, was a candidate for the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner in the outgoing government, and was contesting for the Sindh provincial assembly’s PS-47 seat.

He was killed by gunmen on motorcycles when he left the shop he owned with his father, police said.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

Interim prime minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso ordered an immediate tightening of security for all candidates in the wake of the shooting.

“He sustained four bullets in his head and abdomen and died on the spot,” police official Akhtar Hussain told AFP.

Islam’s father was not injured, but police said he was in “deep shock”.

Speaking to via telephone from an undisclosed location, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that the proscribed organisation was behind the killing of the MQM candidate in Hyderabad, in continuation of the militant group’s earlier announcement of  targeting of secular parties in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban faction has directly threatened the main secular coalition partners in the outgoing government.

The killing of Islam, who was running for the Sindh provincial assembly, is likely to fuel concerns that violence will mar the national and regional elections on May 11.

The MQM said Islam had been targeted deliberately and accused “terrorists” of trying to sabotage a peaceful democratic process.

“The way he has been killed and his father remained unhurt shows the precision the killers have and also their intention to target him in particular,” said party spokesman Wasay Jalil.

“Terrorists are threatening to sabotage elections... but these terror acts will not deter us from taking part in elections and our stance against extremism and terrorism,” he added.

In a statement issued from London, MQM chief Altaf Hussain condemned the incident in strong words and said such cowardly acts would not deter the confidence of his party’s workers.

Hussain demanded that the Provincial Governor and caretaker chief minister should take immediate notice of the incident and bring to justice those behind the attack.

He further demanded protection of the party’s candidates.

Hyderabad is the second largest city in Sindh and the second largest MQM stronghold after the port city of Karachi, which is deeply troubled by ethnic and political killings.

Zahir Shah Sherazi contributed to reporting from Peshawar.