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Pak petals fly like bullets - Flowers and backslap for assassin

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Sporting a garland, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the bodyguard arrested for the killing of Salmaan Taseer, shouts “we are ready to sacrifice our life” after appearing in a court in Islamabad on Wednesday. (Reuters picture)

Jan. 5: A response as telling as the 26 bullets that tore into Salmaan Taseer unfolded in Pakistan a day after the assassination of the governor of its most powerful Punjab province.

Lawyers showered suspected killer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri with rose petals, 500 religious scholars warned against any expression of grief in public, mourners had trouble finding a cleric courageous enough to preside over the last rites of Taseer and the Net crackled with praise for the assassin.

The worst cut was yet to come: police are probing suggestions that several bodyguards of Taseer refused to shoot the assassin when he turned his gun on the governor known for his opposition to the blasphemy law that can award death to those found guilty of insulting Islam.

It also emerged that a top official had warned about the extremist leanings of Qadri — a name commonly adopted by devout men of the Barelvi sect that follows a brand of Islam considered moderate. The officer had specifically said that Qadri should not be assigned to guard VIPs. Qadri’s name was not on the duty roster to guard the governor till Monday night but he was included at his own request on Tuesday morning, interior minister Rehman Malik said.

The Dawn said Qadri, 26, had been deployed to guard Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at least once.

At least 36 of the 40 people detained are policemen — a pointer to the religious fervour that has seeped into law-enforcement agencies that makes it so hard to stabilise Pakistan. Some intelligence officials said they had uncovered connections between Qadri and the Dawat-e-Islami, a Sunni religious group.

At court today, Qadri was greeted with petals tossed by lawyers who were not involved in the case. Some 300 lawyers told the court they were willing to defend the accused free of charge. Qadri made his first appearance in an Islamabad court, which remanded him in custody. A rowdy crowd slapped him on the back and kissed his cheek as he was escorted inside.

After the attack yesterday, Qadri had thrown his weapon down and put his hands up when a colleague aimed at him, pleading to be arrested alive, an officer said. Serving and retired police officers are at a loss why the other elite force personnel did not shoot Qadri although he kept firing for 30 seconds —long enough for a commando to respond.

“The blue book dealing with VVIP security is clear that security will react without wasting any time,” said former Balochistan police chief Chaudhry Yaqub. Among the policemen detained, four apparently knew about Qadri’s plans.

Qadri was born into a poor and uneducated labourer’s family in Rawalpindi in 1985. He was selected to the elite group in 2008.

In Lahore, Taseer, 66, was laid to rest with full state honours but President Asif Ali Zardari, who was close to the governor, did not attend because of security reasons. The funeral prayer at the Governor’s house was delayed by almost an hour as several clerics reportedly refused to lead it.

Scores of civil society activists and some of Taseer’s followers on Twitter marched from the capital’s famous bookstore, Mr Books, to Kohsar Market, where the governor was shot yesterday. Such outpourings were confined to certain pockets.

In contrast, several pages popped up on Facebook eulogising the assassin. One page was titled: “Salute to the greatness of Ghazi Malik Mumtaz Qadri”. Several pages gained hundreds of followers within hours.

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