LAHORE: Gunmen killed the provincial leader of a Pakistani Sunni sectarian group on Friday and police deployed to prevent more violence after the anti-Shiite faction called for protests.
Sectarian strife has been worsening in Pakistan, where Shiite Muslims make up about 20 percent of the 180 million population.
Maulana Shamsur Rehman, the Punjab leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama (ASWJ), was shot while leaving a mosque, said Mahmmed Rafiq from Shafiqabad police station.
Rehman’s group was formed by members of the banned organization Sipah-e-Sahaba, which had repeatedly said it wanted to expel Shiites from Pakistan.
ASWJ leader Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi said in a tweet that the killing of Rehman was part of a “big plot” and that “the situation is now getting out of control.” Another party official tweeted that “party workers should be ready to protest countrywide.”
Around 150 protesters had gathered in the capital of Islamabad, police said, and nearby markets were closed in case of violence.
Extra police were deployed to Shiite mosques there and in Pakistan’s financial heart of Karachi. The port city of 18 million people is plagued by sectarian violence.
Last month, a clash between a Shiite procession and a Sunni seminary left eight Sunnis dead in Rawalpindi and violence spread to two other cities.
More than 800 Shiites have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Sunni sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba was banned in 2001 under US pressure. One of the group’s offshoots, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claims to have carried out hundreds of killings.