Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minorities minister, has been killed by gunmen for challenging the country's blasphemy law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam.
A paramilitary soldier examines the damaged car of slain Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for religious minorities
Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, is the second top official to be killed this year over the controversial blasphemy law.
Shahbaz Bhatti is the second top official killed this year over the blasphemy law
Unknown assailants sprayed at least 25 bullets on Bhatti’s car in broad day light after he came out of his mother's home in a residential area of Islamabad, police said.
"The initial reports are that there were three men who attacked him," said Islamabad police chief Wajid Durrani. "The attackers were clad in shawls and fired bursts on him, and he died."
Pakistani militants later claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti, with a Taliban spokesman saying the minister was a blasphemer.
Supporters shout slogans in support of a Pakistani Christian minority women, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010
Local resident Naseem Ahmed said the firing continued for about 30 seconds. "We came out of our home after hearing the gunfire, we saw the car, it was badly damaged," Ahmed told reporters. "We saw the minister, he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition."
Bhatti was dead on arrival at Islamabad's Shifa hospital, a doctor named Azmatullah Qureshi confirmed. Police said his body was riddled with at least eight bullets.
Islamabad's police chief insisted that Bhatti had been provided with proper security, but said the minister was not accompanied by his security detail when the attack happened. "We are investigating the matter from different angles," he added.
Killers will not go unpunished, says PM
"Such acts will not deter the government's resolve to fight terrorism and extremism," said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who visited the hospital and offered condolences to Bhatti's grieving relatives. He added that the killers would not go unpunished.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the killers would not go unpunished
Bhatti headed the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance and was also the chairman of the Christian Liberation Front. Only around 3 percent of Pakistan's population of 167 million are estimated to be non-Muslim.
Bhatti was a vocal opponent of the controversial blasphemy law along with the liberal late governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, a senior figure in the main ruling Pakistan People's Party who was shot dead on January 4 by one of his own police bodyguards outside an Islamabad coffee shop.
Frequent militant attacks and chronic economic problems have raised fears for Pakistan's future.
Editor: Anne Thomas