Pakistan mourns slain Sufi singer Amjad Sabri

By Zia Ur Rehman

Thousands of mourners June 23 in Karachi attend the funeral of slain Sufi singer Amjad Sabri. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Thousands of mourners June 23 in Karachi attend the funeral of slain Sufi singer Amjad Sabri. [Zia Ur Rehman]

KARACHI -- Pakistanis are reacting with outrage and grief to the assassination of a beloved Sufi singer.

Two gunmen June 22 shot and killed Amjad Sabri outside his house in Karachi and fled the scene. His cousin, Saleem Sabri, was severely injured.

A splinter group affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took claimed responsibility.

The slaying was "targeted killing and act of terrorism", senior Karachi police officer Muqadas Haider said, adding that it was too early to determine whether the TTP had perpetrated it.

"Police ... will soon apprehend the killers," he said.

Shock and condemnation

Outrage was unanimous throughout society.

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif condemned Sabri's assassination and ordered authorities to bring the killers to justice.

Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to Sabri's promotion of Qawwali, or Sufi devotional music, in the country. "Sabri will be immensely missed," he said in a statement.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah strongly condemned the slaying and ordered an investigation.

"There is a conspiracy behind Sabri's killing to create artificial instability in the city," he said June 22. "But the government will ... crush the terrorists with an iron fist."

TV and radio stations in Pakistan played Qawwali music in the background to show respect to Sabri.

Mourners thronged outside Sabri's house in Liaquatabad to pay tribute.

"I am shocked to hear the news of Sabri's killing," Syed Jaffar Rizvi, a Karachi academic, told Central Asia Online outside Sabri's house. "He was the fame of Pakistan and always preached peace and love."

Sabri used to teach Qawwali singing to young performers, Siddiqi Ismail, another Qawwali singer and friend of Sabri, told Central Asia Online. "I am proud to be [one of his students]," he said.

Sabri generously helped a number of impoverished families, especially during Ramadan, Ismail recalled.

Sabri was part of a family of acclaimed Qawwali singers, including his uncle Maqbool Ahmed and his late father, Ghulam Farid.

Taliban attacks on Sufis

The Hakimullah Mehsud faction of the TTP took responsibility for the slaying in phone calls to journalists.

In the past, the TTP has attacked Sufi mosques and shrines nationwide.

"This [TTP] statement is no surprise," Hyderabad-based Sufi scholar Allama Maqbool Aleemi, who came to Karachi for Sabri's funeral, told Central Asia Online. "They have a history of violence toward Sufis and their sacred sites."

Sufis, who prize love and peace, always have condemned the TTP's un-Islamic atrocities, he said.

"The militants see Sufism as a threat," he said.

In 2010, a pair of suicide bombers killed 10 devotees at the Karachi shrine for Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi. In the same year, a suicide bombing at the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore left 42 devotees dead.

In 2011, suicide bombers killed at least 41 devotees at a shrine to Sufi saint Sakhi Sarwar in Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab Province.

Crackdown in Karachi will continue

The assassination comes against the backdrop of generally improving security in Karachi.

Crime and terrorism have plummeted there since September 2013, when the para-military Rangers launched a crackdown that continues today.

The city-wide incidence of homicides and other crimes has plunged since then, according to to the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies. Karachi had 150 deaths from terrorist acts in 2015, down 53% from the total in 2014, the think tank found.

However, terrorists in Karachi have turned their attention to "soft targets", observers and law enforcement say.

The Karachi crackdown will continue, a Rangers spokesman who was not authorised to give his name said in a statement.

Sindh Rangers Director General Maj. Gen. Bilal Akbar chaired a meeting of security officials hours after the slaying to discuss security in Karachi, the statement added. Results of the conference were not disclosed.

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