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Fears of Violence Mount in Pakistan as Millions of Muslims Assemble for Funeral of Executed Jihadist

Relatives and supporters gather around the body of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri following his execution, in Rawalpindi, on February 29, 2016

Pakistani security forces have been placed on high alert for the funeral of the convicted assassin of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged yesterday in Rawalpindi.

Millions of Islamic extremists have reportedly already assembled for the funeral, which will take place on Tuesday morning in Rawalpindi, and large numbers are also expected in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar where other funeral ceremonies will take place simultaneously.

Authorities fear the outbreak of violence by Islamic extremists who have praised Qadri as a “national hero” and a “martyr,” who restored honor to Islam. Qadri openly admitted to assassinating Salman Taseer in 2011, saying that the governor’s opposition to Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy laws was an insult to the “holy” laws. He never repented of the killing.

Qadri shot Taseer 28 times in broad daylight in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market on January 4, 2011, and nine months later was sentenced by the Pakistani anti-terrorism court to hanging for murder and terrorism. Qadri’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which in October 2015 rejected the request for acquittal.

Two weeks after Taseer was shot, the only Christian minister in the federal cabinet and a vocal critic of the blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down in Islamabad.

In August 2011, Taseer’s son Shahbaz was kidnapped from his car in Lahore, and his body was never discovered.

The authorities have raised security measures around Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet. Taseer had championed her cause, which won him the opprobrium of Muslim extremists. The woman is still in jail, but a bounty has reportedly been offered for her murder, and Bibi’s family has already been taken to a secret, secure location to protect them from violence.

Qadri was hanged Monday in Adiala jail, despite the heavy pressure that the Islamists had exerted on President Mamnoon Hussain, including threats of retaliation if he failed to pardon Qadri. Immediately after the execution of Qadri, Islamic protesters took to the streets and blocked several cities.

Dozens of Rangers and police in riot gear were dispatched to Qadri’s home in Rawalpindi where they stood guard to avoid a confrontation with protesters.

The mainstream Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami called Monday, the day of Qadri’s hanging, the “black day” and warned of daily protests until Friday.

On Monday police arrested several Islamic leaders and sympathizers of the murderer of the former governor. Authorities also shut down schools, markets, universities and offices, for fear of possible violent clashes.

Religious liberty advocates commended President Hussain for standing up to Islamic radicals and making the unpopular decision of seeing the execution through.

Father Morris Jalal, the founder of a Catholic television station in Lahore, said that “justice has been done despite the pressure of the extremists. We appreciate the government’s decision, which showed a lot of courage.”

Jalal called the decision “a very brave choice, especially for minorities. This means that in the future false accusations of blasphemy will be discouraged,” he said.

“It is a clear message to the terrorists to repent. No one is above the law and the government is determined to root out the problems in the country,” he said.

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