Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy law slain

Mumtaz Qadri, right, a commando in Pakistan’s elite force, allegedly killed the man he was charged with protecting, Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, on Tuesday.

Mumtaz Qadri, right, a commando in Pakistan’s elite force, allegedly killed the man he was charged with protecting, Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, on Tuesday. Photo by The Associated Press.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The governor of Pakistan’s most dominant province was shot and killed Tuesday by a bodyguard who authorities said was angry about his opposition to blasphemy laws carrying the death sentence for insulting the Muslim faith.

Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, regarded as a moderate voice in a country increasingly beset by zealotry, was a close ally of U.S.-backed President Asif Ali Zardari. He is the highest-profile Pakistani political figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto three years ago, and his death underscores the growing danger in this country to those who dare challenge the demands of Islamist extremists.

Taseer was riddled by gunshots while walking to his car after an afternoon meal at Kohsar Market, a shopping center in Islamabad popular with Westerners and wealthy Pakistanis.

Initial reports indicated the suspected gunman, a police commando guarding Taseer, unloaded up to 26 rounds from a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. The gunman could have fired that number of rounds in a matter of seconds.

Other guards then forced the police commando to the ground, according to police and hospital officials.

“It was one shot first and then a burst,” said R.A. Khan, a witness who was drinking coffee at the time. “I rushed and saw policemen over another police commando, who was lying on the road with his face down.”

An intelligence official interrogating the suspect said the commando had been planning the assassination since learning three days ago that he would be deployed with the governor. Police were trying to determine how he was assigned to Taseer’s security detail Tuesday and whether he’d had any help.

Taseer’s admirers called the governor a profile in courage in a fight for the soul of Pakistan, which in recent years has increasingly swung away from South Asia’s Sufi-influenced moderation to the more fundamentalist approaches to Islam found in some areas of the Middle East.

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