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Police: Two clerics in Pakistan allegedly inspired governor's killing

By Reza Sayah, CNN
Salman Taseer, who opposed Pakistan's hardline blasphemy laws, was shot dead by one of his own security guards.
Salman Taseer, who opposed Pakistan's hardline blasphemy laws, was shot dead by one of his own security guards.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police are on the hunt for two Muslim hard-liners
  • Their names appeared in a confession statement, police said
  • The clerics are said to be based in Rawalpindi
RELATED TOPICS
  • Pakistan
  • Salmaan Taseer
  • Punjab

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Police in Pakistan are searching for two hard-line Muslim clerics who allegedly inspired the assassin of a liberal politician gunned down last week, a police official told CNN.

The clerics' names appear in a confession statement delivered to a judge by Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri, the gunman who killed Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer, said deputy Islamabad police chief Bin Yamin.

Qadri was serving as one of Taseer's security guards when he fired more than 20 bullets at his boss in broad daylight outside an upscale Islamabad shopping plaza.

In his statement, Qadri credited Sunni clerics Mufti Haneef Qureshi and Imtiaz Shah for motivating him to kill Taseer after the politician spoke out against Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, police said.

Late last year, Taseer led an aggressive public campaign to free a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for violating the blasphemy laws.

Taseer said the woman was innocent. He said the laws should be changed because they were being used to persecute Pakistan's religious minorities. Hard-line religious groups in Pakistan protested against Taseer and warned the government not to tamper with the blasphemy laws.

Any change to the laws would be an affront to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, they said. Some of those religious groups praised Qadri for killing Taseer, called for his release and showered him with rose petals at his first court appearance.

The clerics wanted in connection with Taseer's killing are based out of the gunman's hometown of Rawalpindi, the garrison city just outside of the federal capital, but is not clear when and where they spoke to Qadri or what they told him.

Yamin said there is more evidence linking the clerics to the assassination but he wouldn't reveal what police have found. He said the clerics appear to be on the run.

As for the blasphemy laws, there has been debate raging about the legitimacy of the measure and whether they should be changed, The government's position is that there's not going to be an effort to amend the laws, but individual parliamentarians have proposed changes.

Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report