Imran Khan shot at Pakistan protest rally, say associates

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ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s leading opposition figure Imran Khan, who was shot in the foot and slightly injured during a protest march, accused senior government officials of planning an attack on Thursday, party officials said.

A gunman opened fire on a truck carrying the former prime minister and several other party officials who had joined a protest convoy. The attack took place near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters were marching.

In a statement conveyed to local broadcasters by Asad Omar, a senior leader of Khan’s party, the Justice Movement of Pakistan, Khan said “he has received some information and he can say with authority” Pakistan’s prime minister, interior minister and a senior Pakistani intelligence officer was behind the attack.

“Khan asked for the three men to be removed from their offices,” Omar said in remarks to local broadcasters. “If they are not fired, there will be a nationwide protest. We will not allow Pakistan to operate like this. Our protest will continue until these three are fired.”

Home Minister Rana Sanura said the allegations were baseless. “They don’t have any proof and are just making these false accusations for their political gain,” he said. Sanura said Khan’s party had been spreading “extremist views” that were a fresh backlash for Khan and his supporters.

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“Remember, you can also be the target of hate,” he said. “Please stop this, it will only invite more violence.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Baz Sharif earlier condemned the shooting in a statement on Thursday and ordered an investigation.

Video footage of the attack released by Khan’s office showed party leaders taking cover on a bus as the crowd played music as a burst of gunfire rang out.

“Khan was hit in the foot but he is in stable condition,” Omar told local Pakistani broadcaster ARY News. He said the former leader was being treated in Lahore. “Five or six other party leaders who were in the truck with Khan were also injured. One was in serious condition,” he said.

The attack intensified escalating hostilities between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan’s supporters and members of his party described it as an assassination attempt that Pakistani leaders said was an attempt to politicize the shooting and spark unrest.

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In a video confession released by local police, the alleged gunman said he acted alone, without mentioning the political motive for the attack. The man, who was not named in the video, said he shot Khan because loud music was played during the march while Muslims called for prayers, which many conservative Muslims consider disrespectful.

“I tried to kill him. I really wanted to kill him, only Imran Khan and no one else,” the man said in a video broadcast by several Pakistani news outlets. “It was my sudden decision,” he said, suggesting it was not a planned attack. “There is no one behind me and no one by my side. I act alone, and no one is with me.”

Addressing the nation, Information Minister Mariam Aurangzeb condemned the incident and called for calm.

“The gunman has given his reasons for trying to kill Khan, so there is no need to get political on the issue,” she said. She called the allegations of an assassination attempt “very unfortunate” and said, “Please refrain from making such irresponsible remarks until the investigation is complete.”

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Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote this year but has since built popular support across the country, with mass rallies slamming government officials for corruption and calling them foreign puppets.

Last week, Khan marched into the country’s capital, Islamabad, demanding early elections. He assured the march would culminate in the largest demonstration in Pakistan’s history.

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As the popular protest movement developed, Khan came under increasing pressure from the Pakistani government. Several legal proceedings have been brought against him, including under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws. In a rare public statement on Friday, Pakistan’s spy chief accused Khan of demanding “illegal and unconstitutional” support from the military.

Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, who rarely appears in public, announced the allegations in a fiery news conference. He said Khan sought help from the military while in power, but did not specify Khan’s request.

Khan’s party has denied any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s military is considered the most powerful force in the country, but senior leaders of the security forces rarely make public political stances.

George reported from Kabul.

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