Renowned qawwal Amjad Sabri was shot dead on a busy street in Karachi on Wednesday as he was on his way to perform at an iftar in Pakistan’s financial hub.
Two unidentified gunmen shot at the windscreen of Amjad’s car as it drove off a bridge in Liaquatabad Market area. The 45-year-old was hit by three bullets.
Amjad was the scion of the great Sabri Brothers, known for their qawwali singing around the world. His killing was widely condemned across the country.
“Two attackers riding a motorcycle intercepted his car and targeted Amjad Sabri, who was driving,” Sindh police chief Allah Dino Khawaja told reporters soon after the incident.
Amjad was rushed to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. “Amjad Sabri expired on the way to the hospital. He was shot three times,” police surgeon Rohina Hasan said.
The Sabri family rose to fame in the 1970s, when the dynamic duo of Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri redefined the old genre of qawwali singing. Amjad took over the reins from his father Ghulam Farid and uncle Maqbool and took the family name forward, carving a more popular and less niche identity for himself and his family.
Some of the most famous works of the Sabri Brothers include “Tajdar-e-Haram” and “Bhar Do Jholi”, both of which were performed by Amjad for modern audiences.
But Amjad was embroiled in a controversy in 2014, when he was asked by a court to respond to blasphemy charges following the airing on television of a controversial song-and-dance routine set to a qawwali about the wedding of the Prophet Mohammed’s daughter to his cousin.
Police officials said it is too soon to ascertain why Amjad was killed. While other public figures, most notably Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, were killed for allegedly committing blasphemy, police said this may possibly not be the reason for Amjad’s murder. No group claimed responsibility for the killing.
“It was a targeted killing and an act of terrorism,” Muqaddas Haider, another senior police officer, said without naming possible suspects. The Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement said extremist elements had become active despite an army operation being conducted in the city. MQM MP Farooq Saattar said the army and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers were focussing their operation on the Urdu-speaking community while extremists, including cells of Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, were allowed to operate in the city.
Earlier this week, the Sindh high court chief justice’s son was kidnapped from a busy market. Police have speculated he may have been kidnapped to pressure the chief justice to release some condemned religious extremists due to be hanged soon.
Analysts said Amjad’s killing could be the work of some Deobandi group which is opposed to qawwali performances. The Sabris belong to the Barelvi school of thought, whose adherents see qawwali as a form of worship.