Radical Muslims in Pakistan are praising a teenage boy who allegedly gunned down a U.S. citizen accused of blasphemy in court last month, hailing him as a “holy warrior” for the killing, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Faisal Khan, 15, allegedly shot and killed Tahir Naseem, 57, on July 29 as Naseem stood trial on charges of “denigrating the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad” in the northwestern city of Peshawar. After managing to get past three security checkpoints, Khan entered the courtroom where Naseem was attending a bail hearing. The teenager then pulled out a handgun and fired multiple shots at Naseem, Pakistan officials and witnesses said. Shot several times in front of the judge, Naseem died almost immediately in the courtroom. Khan has since been arrested and charged with murder, a capital offense in Pakistan.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, anyone convicted of insulting Allah, Islam, or Muhammad faces an automatic death penalty. The law also assigns lesser punishments for perceived insults to Islam such as desecrating a Quran, which is punishable by a life sentence in prison. Although Pakistan has never executed anyone for the charge, “crowds and individuals in Pakistan often take the law into their own hands,” Radio Mashaal writes.
Instead of condemnation, Khan’s killing of Naseem has been met with approval by many who viewed Naseem as a heretic deserving of his tragic death. Lawyers across Pakistan have been “lining up” to defend the teenager for free, according to the report, while Naseem’s lawyer has been forced into hiding.
Thousands of Pakistanis have staged rallies in support of Khan, demanding his release from jail.
Thousands rallied on Friday in Peshawar to express solidarity with a man who killed Tahir Ahmad Naseem, an American citizen, accused of blasphemy inside a courtroom in Peshawar. pic.twitter.com/PMcoC5DOke
— Ihsan Tipu Mehsud (@IhsanTipu) July 31, 2020
“Delegations of well-wishers — lawyers, [Islamic] clerics, local politicians — have visited the Khan family home in Peshawar to congratulate the family. He has received messages of support from the Pakistani Taliban,” according to Reuters.
Pakistan police guards escorting Khan to a court appearance following his arrest posed for a selfie with the teenager, which has since gone viral on social media. Shot in a police van on their way to the courthouse, the photo shows several of the guards and Khan smiling, with one guard giving a thumbs-up to the camera. A senior Pakistan police official confirmed that the photograph was authentic, according to the report.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry claims that a special team is investigating Khan’s case and that it “will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
A U.S. citizen, Naseem was born in Pakistan but lived in America. He had been detained in Pakistan since 2018 on blasphemy charges. On his LinkedIn account and elsewhere on the internet, Naseem had reportedly referred to himself as “Jesus’s second coming,” a “reviver,” and a “Prophet,” upsetting many of the locals in his native village outside Peshawar, which he visited regularly, according to the report.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement addressing Naseem’s killing on July 30.
“Mr. Naseem had been lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to entrap him. The U.S. Government has been providing consular assistance to Mr. Naseem and his family since his detention in 2018 and has called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case to prevent the type of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred,” the statement read.
“We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses [as Naseem’s killing] to occur and to ensure that the suspect is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the U.S. State Department said.