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Pakistan governor's alleged killer showered with roses

Thursday, January 6, 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 a day after he allegedly sprayed automatic gunfire at the back of Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard.

Later Wednesday, a political adviser to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said an assessment of Qadri by the Punjab police force months before had deemed him a security risk and said he should not be assigned to protect high-profile figures because of his "extremist views."

Qadri has already become a hero in Pakistan among Islamist fundamentalists who have a growing sway in this South Asian nation. 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 "death is acceptable for Muhammad's slave." The suspect stood at the back door of an armoured 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 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 honour and integrity."

Mumtaz Qadri told interrogators Tuesday that he shot the liberal 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.

Mumtaz Qadri is accused of pumping more than 20 rounds from his assault rifle into Taseer's back in an Islamabad street on Tuesday. The commando, who had been assigned to protect his victim, has yet to be charged with a crime.

Faisal Raza Abdi, political adviser to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said he'd seen an assessment by the Punjab province police from months before stating that Qadri was a security risk because he had extremist views.

Abdi said the fact that he was allowed to guard Taseer, despite the assessment's warnings against such assignments, suggested others may have played a role in the killing. He did not say when the assessment was dated but that it was from a top police official.

"I do not think this is an individual act. It is a well planned murder," he told The Associated Press by phone.

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