UPDATE 23/6/16 11:20AM EDT: The day after famed Qawwal Amjad Sabri was shot dead, thousands of people have taken to the streets to mourn his death.
Thousands of people have gathered along Liaquatabad’s main avenue in central Karachi to take part in the funeral procession of the Sufi singer. Devotees thronged the ambulance carrying Sabri’s body to the funeral, blocking its progress.
Sabri was gunned down on Wednesday afternoon and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Hakimullah Mehsud group has accepted responsibility for the attack through its spokesperson Qari Saifullah Mehsud. The spokesperson said that the killing was in retaliation for a song that the extremist group considers blasphemous. But two security officials have said that it isn’t clear if the claim is credible.
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Footage from Sabri’s neighborhood aired on local television channels showed a large crowd of people, including celebrities, cricket starts, and politicians, gathering at his residence to pay their respects.
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the murder, calling Sabri’s death an “irreparable loss.”
“We [qawwali singers] are messengers of peace. We have no enemies,” said Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, one of Pakistan’s most famous musicians. “We only send a message of happiness and peace. I’m overwhelmed with grief.”
PREVIOUS UPDATE 22/6/2016:
Legendary Pakistani qawwal Amjad Sabri of the Sabri Brothers group was shot dead in Karachi today by unidentified motorcycle gunmen, only two days after masked men kidnapped the son of a top provincial judge.
Initial details of the attack suggest that four unidentified gunmen riding two motorcycles opened fire at his car. The gunmen shot at the windscreen of Sabri’s car as it drove over a bridge in the congested area of Liaquatabad.
“Two attackers riding a motorcycle intercepted his car and targeted Amjad Sabri, who was driving,” Sindh police chief Allah Dino Khawaja told Reuters.
“Two riders used 30-bore pistols to shoot Sabri five times, one bullet in the head took the qawwal’s life […] We have cordoned off the area and will arrest the culprits using all our resources,” another police spokesperson said.
Sabri, 45, and an associate were traveling in a car when they were fired upon, critically injuring them. The two were then rushed to Abbasi Shaheed hospital, where Sabri was pronounced dead. Sabri had been heading towards the studio of a private television channel along with his associate to take part in an Iftari transmission when he was attacked.
“He was shot in the chest and head and he was shifted to Abbasi Shaheed hospital immediately, where he succumbed to his injuries. The driver and associate have been killed in the targeted attack,” Khawaja said.
Police surgeon Dr. Rohina Hassan confirmed Sabri’s death, and according to her, Sabri was shot thrice: twice in the head and once through the ear.
Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal ordered an immediate inquiry into the murders, pledging all efforts into finding the culprits. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack.
Acting president Raza Rabbani described Sabri’s murder as “unfortunate.” In a statement issued soon after the killing, Rabbani said that he hopes that the Sindh government takes steps towards locating and apprehending the suspects.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Farooq Sattar said of Sabri’s murder that it has left many questions open regarding the alleged success of the police crackdown in Karachi. “We have always pointed out that Karachi has many domains of extremist elements. These extremists kill people whenever they want,” Sattar said.
“This creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust among people,” he continued, citing that just two days ago the Sindh High Court Justice’s son was kidnapped despite the police crackdown in Karachi.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the murders.
Violence still an issue in Karachi
Unfortunately, violence is a common occurrence in Karachi, despite a significant decline in the murder rate after the Pakistani military initiated a “crackdown” program two years ago. This program was aimed at apprehending suspected militants and violent criminals.
Another recent criminal occurrence in the city includes the kidnapping of Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s son on Wednesday. He was abducted outside of a supermarket, and unfortunately, the motive for the kidnapping has not been immediately clear, authorities have said.
Last month, assailants shot and killed prominent Pakistani rights activist Khurram Zaki, who was known for his outspoken stance against the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups. He was killed in the central part of Karachi.
In April of last year, prominent political activist Sabeen Mahmud was shot and killed while traveling in her car through the city.
Sabri not without controversy
While Sabri was a much-beloved figure for many Pakistanis, his career was one not without controversy. In 2014, the Islamabad High Court issued a citation in reference to blasphemy case to two separate television channels for the playing of a qawwali during a morning talk show.
The show had depicted a mock wedding and made use of a qawwali sung by Sabri related to religious figures. Many considered this to be offensive and blasphemous.
Advocate Tariq Asad put the blame for the offense against Sabri and Pakistani poet Aqeel Mohsin Naqvi and at the same time sought to ban the particular qawwali that caused the issue in the first place.
Amjad Sabri leaves behind a legacy
Amjad Sabri was the descendant of the famous Sabri brothers, singers who created and secured an important and individual identity in qawwali singing not only in Pakistan, but throughout the world.
Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in Pakistan and many other parts of South Asia. Qawwali is part of a musical tradition that stretches back for more than 700 years.
Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan. However, more recently, the sect has come under attack from more hard-line, extremist Islamists.
The Sabri family rose to fame in the mid 1970s, when the singing duo of Ghulam Farid Sabri (Amjad Sabri’s father) and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri went on to redefine and reinvent the antiquated genre of qawwali singing. Since then, the Sabri family has dominated the qawwali music scene in Pakistan and India.
What people around the world are saying
Shocked at the murder of famous qawwal Amjad Sabri & his companions in Karachi. A complete failure of law & order & writ of the govt.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) June 22, 2016
— Dr. Bia (@Carpe_Di3m_) June 22, 2016
No words. This is extremely sad, disturbing and unacceptable specially since he had submitted an application for his protection! #AmjadSabri
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) June 22, 2016
The disease of hatred continues to eat up the Republic. So much to mourn, so little to celebrate.
— Nadeem Farooq Paracha (@NadeemfParacha) June 22, 2016
— Ahmad Shahzad 🇵🇰 (@iamAhmadshahzad) June 22, 2016
#AmjadSabri……………..Is it an other attack on sufism?
— Iftikhar Ahmad (@jawabdeyh) June 22, 2016
My GOD!!! horrified by such brutality. Saddening & utterly Disturbing. #AmjadSabri 💔
— MAWRA HOCANE (Hussain) (@MawraHocane) June 22, 2016
— Mustafa Azizabadi (@azizabadi) June 22, 2016
When he only preached for love + peace… #AmjadSabri
— Bakhtawar B-Zardari (@BakhtawarBZ) June 22, 2016
I strongly condemn terrorist attack on Amjad Sabri. My heart goes out to the bereaved family. #AmjadSabri
— Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri (@TahirulQadri) June 22, 2016