Gunmen kill prominent Sunni leader in Pakistan

Unidentified gunmen entered the mosque and shot him dead

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A prominent Sunni Muslim leader from a religious political party was shot dead in a pre-dawn attack in southern Pakistan on Saturday, police said.

Doctor Khalid Mehmood Soomro, a leader from the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) party in southern Sindh province was offering his morning prayers when unidentified gunmen entered the mosque and shot him dead.

“Two armed men entered in the mosque and fired 11 shots, four bullets hit Khalid Soomro and he died on spot,” Tanveer Hussain, a senior police officer told AFP.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a party spokesman confirmed the killing which took place in Sukkur town, some 500 kilometres (290 miles) north of Karachi, the provincial capital and the country’s commercial hub.

The killing prompted shops and businesses to close in parts of southern Sindh and small groups of party members took to the streets across the country in protest.

The JUI-F party spokesman said Soomro -- who served as a member of Pakistan’s senate (upper house) from 2006 to 2012 -- had received death threats and had been attacked several times in the past.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the JUI-F called for a countrywide protest on Sunday and asked his party supporters to “take to the streets and hold protest rallies,” but remain peaceful.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but JUI-F has previously been targeted by the Pakistani Taliban, even though the party leaders have for several times acted as negotiators between the militants and Pakistan government.

Rehman, the head of the JUI-F survived a suicide attack in October after addressing a rally in Quetta, capital of restive Baluchistan province. That attack killed at least 11 people and wounded 30 others.

A bombing at a JUI-F election rally in May 2013 killed more than 20 people, while Rehman was targeted twice in as many days by bombings in 2011.

Pakistan has been battling Islamist groups in the northwest and its semi-autonomous tribal belt since 2004 after its army entered the tribal region to search for Al-Qaeda fighters who had fled across the border following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

In June the army began a major offensive against militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal agency, a stronghold for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

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