Taliban kills Pakistani Christian minister for blasphemy

Shahbaz Bhatti was Pakistan's Minorities Minister, opposed a law requiring all "blasphemers" be executed.

pakistan taliban assassination 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
pakistan taliban assassination 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gunmen shot dead Pakistan's minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday for challenging a law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam, the second top official killed this year over the 'blasphemy law'. The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, is the latest sign of the deep political instability in the nuclear-armed US ally. Frequent militant attacks and chronic economic problems have raised fears for the country's future.
Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti, with a Taliban spokesman saying the minister was a blasphemer.
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Bhatti was shot in broad daylight while travelling in a car near a market in the capital, Islamabad, police said.
"The initial reports are that there were three men who attacked him. He was probably shot using a Kalashnikov, but we are trying to ascertain what exactly happened," said Islamabad police chief Wajid Durrani.
The windscreen of Bhatti's car had four or five bullet holes and blood covered the back seat. A hospital spokesman said Bhatti, who had spoken out against the anti-blasphemy law, received several wounds.
The law has been in the spotlight since last November, when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death.
On Jan. 4 the governor of the most populous province of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought a presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was killed by one of his bodyguards who had been angered by the governor's stand.
Bhatti was traveling without security, having left two escorts provided by police at home, Durrani said.
"There was no protection when he left the house," the police chief said. "There was just a private driver with him. We don't know about the minister's thinking, but we had provided him two escorts because he was under threat."
Pakistani Taliban militants had called for Bhatti's death because of his attempts to amend the law and a militant spokesman, Sajjad Mohmand, said they had killed him.
"He was a blasphemer like Salman Taseer," Mohmand said by telephone from an undisclosed location.