- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

LAHORE, Pakistan — The leader of an extremist Sunni Muslim group believed by police to be behind the sectarian murders of 400 Shi’ites in Pakistan was fatally shot outside Islamabad yesterday.

Maulana Azam Tariq was driving into the Pakistani capital with three associates when gunmen in a pickup truck opened fire, killing all four men.

Mr. Tariq had been in jail facing several murder charges and was released last year after he won a seat in parliament. His death is likely to intensify sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

His Sipah-e-Sahaba party, which was banned by President Pervez Musharraf after the September 11 attacks, was virulently anti-Shi’ite and argued that Shi’ites should not be allowed to practice their interpretation of Islam in Pakistan and should be killed, jailed or thrown out of the country. Shi’ite Muslims form a small minority — less than 15 percent — in the country.

On Friday, gunmen believed to be Sunni extremists attacked a bus in Karachi carrying Shi’ite worshippers traveling to Friday prayers, killing six persons. Mr. Tariq’s murder is seen as a retaliation to the Karachi shooting.

Earlier this year about 40 Shi’ite doctors were fatally shot in targeted killings in Karachi, which led to an exodus of Shi’ite physicians from Pakistan.

Hundreds of Mr. Tariq’s followers accompanied his body from the hospital to a mosque in Islamabad. Some threw stones at shops; others chanted “America is a dog” and anti-Shi’ite slogans. No major damage was reported.

In the southern port city of Karachi, police tightened security, especially around churches and Shi’ite Muslim mosques.

A top leader of Mr. Tariq’s new political party, Millat-e-Islamia, condemned the killing and warned of nationwide protests if those responsible are not caught.

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