ISLAMABAD – The confessed killer of a liberal Pakistani politician provided a judge Monday with the names of two men whose sermons allegedly sparked him to act, as YouTube footage emerged of the assassin chanting Islamic verses in police custody.
The slaying of Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer nearly a week ago shocked many around the world, but tens of thousands of Pakistanis have expressed support for 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri, who said he killed the governor for criticizing laws that carry the death penalty for insulting Islam.
That support — and the lack of criticism of the assassination by many politicians — shows the increasing influence of hardline Islamist ideology in Pakistan, a key ally in Washington's war against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the region.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws Monday, saying they should be repealed because they were used as a pretext for violence against non-Muslims.
"I once more encourage the leaders of that country (Pakistan) to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law," said the pope. "The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction. The worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division."
Human rights activists have also said Pakistan's blasphemy laws are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities.
Governor Taseer had called them "black" laws, but he wasn't demanding they be repealed. Instead, he wanted them reformed so they wouldn't be misused. Taseer became energized by the case of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who he said was wrongly sentenced to death for insulting Islam's prophet, Muhammad. The pope also called for her release.
Qadri told a judge Monday in written testimony that he decided to kill Taseer after he attended a gathering on Dec. 31 organized by Shahab-e-Islam, a small Islamist group that operated in his neighborhood in Rawalpindi, just outside the capital, Islamabad. He said speeches given by a cleric leading the group, Qari Hanif, and another member, Ishtiaq Shah, played a major role in his decision.
Police say they are now seeking the two men for questioning.
The court hearing was closed to the media, but a senior police official who has a copy of Qadri's confession provided The Associated Press with the details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Police decided to present Qadri before the judge a day before he was scheduled to appear to avoid attracting the crowds of supporters who have shown up for his previous court appearances, said Islamabad police spokesman Naeem Iqbal.
In his previous appearances, supporters showered him with rose petals, kissed his cheek and shouted slogans in his favor.
The footage that appeared on YouTube showed Qadri chanting verses praising Islam's prophet as a police officer sits next to him. It is unclear who recorded the video. It was posted on Jan. 6, two days after Taseer was killed, and is accompanied by comments both for and against Qadri.
There was no way to independently verify the authenticity of the video. Police declined comment.
Tens of thousands of people marched through the southern port city of Karachi on Sunday to oppose any change to the blasphemy laws and many expressed support for Taseer's killer, chanting "Courage and bravery, Qadri, Qadri."
Amid threats from groups defending the law, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ruled out any changes to the legislation.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Vatican City.