Gunmen shot dead a top leader of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), considered a front for the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, in Pakistan's Punjab province today, police said.
Shamsur Rehman Mawia, head of the Punjab chapter of the Sunni extremist organisation, was killed by two gunmen riding motorcycles in the provincial capital of Lahore this afternoon, police official Muhammad Rafique said. The killing is believed to be linked to recent sectarian clashes between Shias and Sunnis that claimed a dozen lives in Rawalpindi and two northwestern cities.
Mawia was going home after offering the Friday prayers when the gunmen fired indiscriminately at his car on Ravi Road. He died instantly while his driver and a passerby were injured. The two injured persons were taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors described their condition as critical.
Mawia had also served as a senior leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba, which was outlawed in 2002 by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. The group subsequently re-emerged with the name ASWJ.
Soon after Mawia's killing, security was enhanced at Lahore's imambargahs or Shia prayer halls. "Since Punjab is a stronghold of the ASWJ, a violent reaction cannot be ruled out. Therefore, we have beefed up security at all Shia places of worship," a police source told PTI.
The source said senior police officers had asked the ASWJ leadership to maintain calm.
The recent sectarian violence began in Rawalpindi when a Muharram procession organised by Shias was passing by a Sunni madrassa last month. Eleven people, including Shias and Sunnis, were killed in clashes in the garrison city.
Since then, law enforcement agencies have failed to control the rival sects and further sectarian violence has been reported from different parts of the country, especially the southern port city of Karachi.