ISLAMABAD – Suspected militants opened fire on a vehicle carrying Pakistan's religious affairs minister Wednesday, wounding him and killing his driver in a brazen attack in the heart of the capital.
Hamid Saeed Kazmi had been critical of militants blamed for scores of attacks in Pakistan over the last 2 1/2 years.
Fellow ministers said extremists were suspected in the shooting, which took place as police in Islamabad were on high alert amid fears of revenge attacks by Taliban militants following the Aug. 5 killing of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike.
"We are not scared, we are not afraid of these cowardly acts," said Health Minister Ejaz Jhakrani. "Everybody is under threat because the government is committed and firm in the war against terror."
Kazmi was shot in the leg and was in stable condition, said Dr. Masood Pashad. Media reports said his life was not in danger. The driver of the car was killed and a guard was also wounded in the attack, said police officer Tahir Alam.
Authorities said two gunmen on a motorbike were involved in the shooting. They struck seconds after Kazmi's vehicle left his office, witnesses said.
Mohammad Salahuddin, a religious affairs ministry employee, said he rushed to the car following the attack and pulled the minister from it.
"I saw a man running across the road and jumping on a motorcycle before speeding away, but I could not see his face," said Salahuddin, his clothes covered in blood from those he pulled from the damaged vehicle.
Police officer Tahir Alam said the attackers dumped an assault rifle, two pistols and a hand grenade before fleeing.
The vehicle crashed into a tree during the attack. It had about a dozen bullet holes in its side and smashed front and side windows. Blood stains were visible on the back and front seats, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
Kazmi comes from Pakistan's Barelvi sect, which is traditionally more moderate than others in Pakistan. Its followers often pray at the tombs of saints, something that Sunni extremists such as the Taliban regard as a sin. His duties included regulating the country's thousands of Islamic schools, some of which are linked to extremist groups.
State Information Minister Sumsam Bukhari said terrorists were behind the attack.
"The fact of the matter is that (Kazmi) was spreading the message of peace and openly condemning the terrorists," he said.