Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan has survived a shooting at a political rally on Thursday that his party called an assassination attempt, which killed one person and injured several others and prompted protests among Khan’s supporters.
Video of the alleged attack shows Khan waving from an open-topped truck just outside the town of Gujranwala, Punjab province, when shots rang out, sending his party members ducking for cover.
A bullet hit Khan in the leg, said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senior leader Asad Umar, who later added: “Yes, he has been shot, there are pellets lodged in his leg, his bone has been chipped, he has also been shot in his thigh.”
Khan was taken from the rally site to receive treatment in Lahore, around a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, and was in a stable condition, Umar added.
A man suspected of firing shots at the rally was detained on Thursday, according to police. The suspect was arrested with a 9mm pistol and two empty magazines, police said.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information released a video of a confession from an unnamed man who it claims carried out the attack.
In the video, the man says he “wanted to kill Imran Khan” because he “was misleading people,” adding he had no accomplices.
“They (Khan’s rallies) were playing music and shouting from the loudspeakers as the call for prayer was happening. I didn’t like this happening on our soil,” the man says in the video, purportedly regarding his intentions.
CNN cannot verify the circumstances under which the video was taken and is therefore not showing it.
At least one person was killed in the incident, according to Faisal Javed, a senior PTI politician and close Khan ally who received a wound to the head in the attack. The victim’s name has not been released.
In a video statement Javed, who can be seen sitting up while receiving treatment, said: “Please pray for us, for Imran Khan, pray for our fellow workers who are severely injured and pray for our party member who has died and is martyred.”
Earlier Thursday, Sen. Fawad Chaudhry, a senior PTI politician and Khan’s former information minister, said Khan was undergoing surgery and six others were injured and still being treated.
“We want to know who is behind the incident, which people trained the accused, what is the thinking under which this boy was prepared, how much money he got, where did he get it from,” the Chief Minister of Punjab province, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, wrote on Twitter.
Khan’s long march
Khan was on the seventh day of a nationwide tour, during which he has held rallies calling for early elections to be held before next August. The so-called “long march” started in Lahore on October 28 and was due to finish in Islamabad after winding through several Pakistani cities.
It’s among a number of rallies the former Pakistani cricket caption has held since his dramatic ouster as Prime Minister in a no-confidence vote in April. During that time, he’s repeatedly claimed, without any evidence, that the United States was behind his loss of power.
His claims have struck a chord with a young population in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high, and where the rising cost of living has fueled anti-establishment feelings.
After the shooting, protests broke out across Pakistan on Thursday in support of Khan, including in Islamabad and Peshawar, where approximately 800 protesters gathered. They blocked roads for about two hours while holding party flags and chanting slogans against the army and the federal government.
Several PTI politicians addressed the crowd, including provincial assembly member Fazal Elahi, who said the attack was part of a conspiracy against the PTI leadership.
“Today we held a peaceful protest which would continue in the future as well,” Elahi said.
Political tensions increase
Thursday’s shooting is likely to further inflame an already tense situation between Khan and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who led the campaign to remove him from office.
Khan alleges that Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a senior intelligence official, Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer, were behind Thursday’s attack.
Khan made the accusations in a statement shared by PTI senior leader Umar, who said he recently spoke to Khan.
“I was getting information that this was going to happen from beforehand,” Khan said, according to Umar. “These men need to be removed from their posts, if they are not removed then there will be protests.”
Sanaullah called Khan’s allegations “grievous” during a televised address on Thursday.
“Imran Khan has blamed me, the PM and a senior officer. This is such a grievous statement,” Sanaullah said. “It happened in the province where Imran Khan’s party is in government,” he said.
“I commend the PTI worker who caught the man who tried to shoot Imran Khan. I commend the police and the man who stopped the attacker. There has been an atmosphere that all political etiquette has been ignored.”
Sharif, however, condemned Thursday’s attack on his political rival on Twitter.
“I condemn the incident of firing on PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the strongest words,” Sharif wrote, adding that he has asked for an “immediate report on the incident” and will pray for the recovery of those injured.
“Violence should have no place in our country’s politics,” Sharif wrote.
On October 21, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) recommended that Khan be disqualified from holding political office for five years, a move likely to exacerbate political tensions in the country.
While reading out the recommendation, ECP chief Sikandar Sultan Raja stated that Khan was disqualified for being involved in “corrupt practices.”
The commission said its decision was based on the grounds that Khan had “made false statements” regarding the declaration of the sale of gifts sent to him by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Dubai while in office – an offense that is illegal under the country’s constitution.
This is not the first time that Pakistani politicians have been attacked.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, and then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani survived an assassination attempt in 2008.
On Thursday, the US condemned the attack on the former prime minister. “The United States strongly condemns the attack on Imran Khan and his supporters and hopes for the swift recovery of all who were injured. Violence has no place in politics,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New Mexico.
“We call on all parties to remain peaceful and refrain from violence.”
Correction: A previous version of this story contained an old photo of Imran Khan erroneously distributed by the Associated Press. It has been removed.