Assassin Suspect Faults Blasphemy-Law Foe; Slain Governor Backed Repeal of Pakistan's Muslim Statute

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Byline: Ashish Kumar Sen, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The governor of Pakistan's richest and most populous province, Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his bodyguards, who said he was angered by the governor's opposition to the country's blasphemy laws.

The slaying of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer is the most prominent since the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun-and-bomb attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi outside Islamabad on Dec. 27, 2007.

Mr. Taseer, 66, was close to Mrs. Bhutto and her husband, current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and was a senior member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The fate of the PPP-led government was put into question Sunday after its coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), withdrew its support.

According to officials and sources in Pakistan, Mr. Taseer was fatally shot as he was entering his car at Kohsar Market, a tiny area in Islamabad that is frequented by Westerners and Pakistan's elite.

A knowledgeable source in Islamabad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mr. Taseer had been struck by nine bullets. He identified the assassin as bodyguard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, 26, who gave himself up at the scene.

The bearded Mr. Qadri was seen smiling in photographs taken soon after his arrest.

Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer, and this is the punishment for a blasphemer, Mr. Qadri said in comments that were broadcast on Pakistan's Dunya television.

Mr. Taseer had recently spoken out in support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five who was sentenced to death after being accused of blasphemy. This was the first conviction of its kind for a woman in Pakistan.

It is tragic, and it shows you how much it will cost when you stand up to do things that are right, said C. …