PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani man charged with the killing of a U.S. citizen inside a court in the country’s restive northwest has claimed he had an accomplice, a lawyer who managed to sneak the gun into the building and give it to him, the police said Thursday.
The American, Tahir Naseem, was gunned down in public last month in the city of Peshawar where he was on trial for blasphemy following his arrest two years ago after he had allegedly declared himself Islam’s prophet. Rights activists said Naseem was mentally challenged.
The U.S. State Department said Naseem had been “lured to Pakistan” from his home in Illinois and entrapped by the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which international rights groups have sought to have repealed.
His killer, Faisal Khan, was taken into custody on the spot and now claims he had an accomplice who was able to bring the gun inside the court undetected and give it to him, said police official Inamullah Khan. The police official is not related to the killer.
The alleged accomplice, Tufail Zia, who had no role in the proceedings against Naseem but as a lawyer was apparently able to bypass heavy security around the Peshawar courthouse, has also been arrested, the police official said. He is to remain in custody while police investigate Faisal Khan’s claim.
Within days of the fatal shooting, religious radicals throughout Pakistan demonstrated in support of the killer and praised his actions. Selfies surfaced online of members of Pakistan’s elite guards force seen smiling as they transported Khan for his arraignment court appearance — smiles that apparently are meant to show support for the killer.
The U.S. government has urged Pakistan to move quickly to investigate and prosecute Naseem’s killer.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law calls for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam. But in this deeply conservative Muslim country, a mere allegation of blasphemy can cause mobs to riot and vigilantes to take up arms and try to kill those accused. Any attempt to even amend the blasphemy law to make it more difficult to bring charges or abuse it has brought mobs out on the street.
The U.S. Commission on International Freedom also condemned Naseem’s killing and labelled Pakistan a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report because of its treatment of minorities, which are increasingly under attack even as Prime Minister Imran Khan preaches a “tolerant” Pakistan.