In what appeared to be an assassination attempt, former prime minister Imran Khan was shot at and injured on Thursday evening when a suspect, standing in front of the container carrying the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief and senior party leaders, showered a volley of bullets with an automatic weapon during the paraty’s ‘Haqaaqi Azadi’ march in Wazirabad’s Allahwala Chowk.

It later transpired that a PTI supporter, identified as Muazzam Nawaz, had lost his life, while 14 party leaders and workers, including Senator Faisal Javed Khan, MNA Ahmad Nasir Chattha and Omer Mayar, sustained injuries.

Imran, who sustained multiple bullet injuries in his leg, was reported to be stable after operation at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore. Bullet pellets were removed from his thigh and shin. Other injured were shifted to local hospitals for immediate treatment.

Later after his operation at Shaukat Khanum, the PTI chairman said he was fine and expressed the resolve that the long march would continue and reach Islamabad. “I will not bow down, but stay determined to bring Haq­eeqi Azadi for my fellow Pakistanis,” PTI official media quoted him as saying, adding the march would resume from Wazirabad at 11am on Friday (today).

THE LONG MARCH: The PTI had resumed its long march from Wazirabad on Thursday afternoon on the seventh day of the movement and was reportedly targeted at around 4:15pm. The march was suspended for the day on the instructions of the injured party chairman.

Witnesses claimed the suspected assailant fired an entire round of the bullet magazine and was trying to load a second when a PTI supporter, Ibtisam, instantly overpowered him from behind. The suspect was later arrested and taken to a local police station.

The attack, being deemed “targeted”, triggered widespread condemnation from across the political divide.

FAWAD SAYS IT WAS PLANNED: Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry alleged it was “a planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan and he escaped narrowly,” claiming an automatic weapon was used.

He tweeted: “It was a well-planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan. The assassin planned to kill Imran Khan and leadership of PTI. It was not 9MM, it was a burst from automatic weapon. No two opinions that it was narrow escape.”

SUSPECT’S STATEMENT: The suspected assailant arrested from the crime scene claimed in a video statement apparently leaked by the police claimed he had planned to kill Imran when the long march started from Lahore.

“I tried my best to kill him only and no one else because he was misguiding people,” he said. The suspect, who earlier served a jail term in a theft case, also claimed he acted alone and planned the conspiracy himself.

IMRAN’S STATEMENT: Later, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar in a video statement said Mr Khan was safe and had conveyed a message that he had prior information about the attack on his life, holding three senior government and military officials responsible for it.

He said that “PTI chief Imran Khan demanded [the trio] be removed from their offices otherwise a country-wide protest would be launched”.

He asked workers to wait for the next protest call by the party chief.

THREAT ALERT: Sources say the Gujranwala city police officer had already issued a threat alert on Nov 1 that the VIP security provided to Mr Khan needed to be beefed up and suggested bullet-proof shield, rostrum and stage be used on the container.

“Bullet-proof shield, bullet-proof rostrum along with a screen has reached Gujranwala and needed to be installed on the container for the protection of Imran Khan,” the threat alert stated.

Gujrat Regional Police Officer Dr Akhtar Abbas told reporters they had already asked the march organizers since they started in Lahore to use a bullet-proof rostrum and shield. He added the Punjab government had constituted a team comprising district police and counter terrorism department officials for an investigation.

Soon after Thursday’s attack, Senator Ejaz Chaudhry tweeted that he had already warned MNA Chattha that a life-attempt would be made on the party chief in Wazirabad. He also alleged the “imported government” was involved in the attack, while Asad Umar also pointed fingers at the ruling PML-N over the incident.

Hamza, a DJ responsible for the sound system during the march, told a news channel that he was on the container and saw three people firing on the vehicle. “A shooter standing on the terrace of a nearby building was carrying a big gun,” he said, adding several people were injured and refuted the notion that it was the work of one person carrying a pistol on the ground.

The Punjab police late on Thursday claimed a suspected person, who fired shots at the former premier in Wazirabad, had been detained. Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Faisal Shahkar directed the Counter-Terrorism Department, and the Gujrat regional and district police officers to conduct investigations into the incident to bring true facts before the people.

JIT FORMED: Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi directed the IGP to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe into the attack on Mr Khan. He also took notice of the purported leak of the arrested suspect’s video statement and suspended the entire staff of the police station concerned.

Mr Elahi along with his son Moonis also reached Shaukat Khanum hospital and inquired after Mr Khan. In a video message from the hospital, Mr Elahi said Imran Khan was fine and committed to his mission of ‘real independence’. He said the JIT would investigate the motives behind the attack and identify those who trained the assailant.

Refuting that the assailant acted alone, the CM claimed two people were involved and vowed that all those responsible and the perpetrators behind the “conspiracy” would be taken to task. He said he had suspended the entire police station where the arrested suspect’s statement was leaked from.

“The cell phones of all policemen have been confiscated and handed over to the forensic department for analysis and information on who was in contact and where,” he added.

Moreover, Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi also visited him in the hospital.

IMRAN’S SPEECH BEFORE ATTACK: About a couple of hours before bid on his life, Imran expressed his confidence that no violence would ever take place during the long march.

“I am confident that there will be no violence in the long march,” Imran said, speaking to the British media.

“I have been protesting on the streets for the last six months. The long march aims at holding the general elections and bringing change to the country.”

Imran emphasised that there was no other option but to hold elections.

The PTI chief reiterated his oft-repeated position that he won’t form the government if he gets a debilitated government like the last time.

The coalition government was frail last time, Imran Khan said, adding, “I was not strong enough to enforce the rule of law. Therefore, I couldn’t bring the powerful mafias to justice.”

He asserted that the mafias had many ways to incapacitate and blackmail him.

“If I have the full number in parliament this time around, I will assume power,” he vowed, saying the government can implement the law only when it has a majority in parliament.

PROTESTS ALL OVER COUNTRY: Immediately after the attack on Mr Khan, PTI leaders and supporters took to the streets in cities across the country to condemn the incident. Punjab Local Government Minister Mehmoodur Rasheed led a protest at Liberty Chowk, while demonstrations were also held outside Shaukat Khanum hospital, Shahdara Chowk, GPO Chowk, The Mall, outside Governor House, Ferozepur Road, Babu Sabu Interchange where protesters burned tyres and blocked roads.

In Karachi, protests were held from power house intersection to 4K intersection where the service road was closed for traffic, at 5-Star intersection, a sit-in at Teen Talwar and at Native Jetty Bridge where pro-Imran slogans were raised.

In Rawalpindi’s Faizabad area, a huge protest was held where people burnt tyres, shouted anti-government and pro-Imran Khan slogans, blocked Murree Road. In Faisalabad, a huge protest was held at Jinnah Colony Chowk on Narwala Road. Another one led by PTI leader Farrukh Habib was held near Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s house where protesters damaged a lion statue.

In Peshawar, protesters gathered outside the Corps Commander House and shouted slogans for ‘independence’. In Imran Khan’s hometown of Mianwali, MNA Amjad Ali Khan led a protest along with District General Secretary Ameer Khan at Dattakhel Chowk as the road was blocked and people raised anti-government slogans and burned tires.

Similar protests were held in Hafizabad; Kotli and Muzaffarabad in AJK, Gilgit, Multan, Ahmedpur East, Chanigoth, Uch Sharif, Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Pindigheb, Jahanian, Buner, Lodhran, Bajaur, Parachinar, Swabi, Kohat, Timergara and Gojra.

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