- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan | Lawyers showered the suspected killer of a prominent Pakistani governor with rose petals when he arrived at court Wednesday, and an influential Muslim scholars group praised the assassination of the outspoken opponent of laws that order death for those who insult Islam.

Mumtaz Qadri, 26, made his first appearance in an Islamabad court, where a judge remanded him in custody. Mr. Qadri is accused of spraying automatic gunfire at the back of Punjab province Gov. Salmaan Taseer while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard.

A rowdy crowd slapped him on the back and kissed his cheek as he was escorted inside the court. The lawyers who tossed the rose petals were not involved in the case.

As he left the court, a crowd of about 200 sympathizers chanted slogans in his favor. The suspect stood at the back door of an armored police van with a flower necklace given to him by an admirer and repeatedly yelled, “God is great.”

More than 500 clerics and scholars from the group Jamat Ahle Sunnat said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of the governor. The group representing Pakistan’s majority Barelvi sect, which follows a brand of Islam considered moderate, also issued a veiled threat to other opponents of the blasphemy laws.

“The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy,” the group warned in a statement, adding that politicians, the media and others should learn “a lesson from the exemplary death.”

Jamat leader Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri paid “glorious tribute to the murderer … for his courage, bravery and religious honor and integrity.”

Mr. Qadri told interrogators Tuesday that he shot the liberal Mr. Taseer multiple times because of the politician’s vocal opposition to the harsh blasphemy laws. Qadri is a name commonly adopted by devout men of the Barelvi sect.

Mr. Qadri is accused of pumping more than 20 rounds from his assault rifle into Mr. Taseer’s back in an Islamabad street on Tuesday. The commando, who had been assigned to protect the governor, has not been charged with a crime.

Questions have arisen about whether others were involved in the assassination and why Mr. Qadri was assigned to Mr. Taseer’s detail.

Faisal Raza Abdi, a political adviser to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said officials with the Punjab police told him that the department deemed Mr. Qadri a security risk months ago because he had extremist views, and said he should not be assigned to protect high-profile figures.

Mr. Abdi said he was told that assessment was part of the investigation. He said the fact that Mr. Qadri was allowed to guard Mr. Taseer suggested that others may have played a role in the killing.

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