Thousands mourn death of popular Pakistani Sufi singer

Renowned Pakistani Qawwali singer Amjad Sabri was on his way to attend an Iftar meal being broadcast by a private TV channel in Karachi when motorcycle-borne assailants shot him dead.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Thousands of mourners gather around an ambulance carrying the coffin of renowned Sufi singer Amjad Sabri during his funeral in Karachi on June 23, 2016.

Thousands of people attended the funeral procession of renowned Pakistani singer Amjab Sabri on Thursday, a day after he was gunned down in the port city of Karachi in an attack claimed by a faction of the Taliban.

Sabri, 45, was one of South Asia's most popular singers of Qawwali, Sufi devotional music that dates back more than 700 years.

He was shot dead by unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle in Karachi on Wednesday. The killing triggered an outpouring of grief over what police described as an "act of terror."

Sabri was driving his car in the Liaquatabad area of the city when a motorcycle pulled up alongside the vehicle and the attackers opened fire, police officer Farooq Sanjarani said. He had hardly travelled a kilometre from his house to attend an Iftaar transmission at a private television channel, marking the end of the daily Ramadan fast.

"Our preliminary examination shows he was shot thrice in the head, face and chest," said Dr Rohina Hassan, the additional police surgeon at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

"It was a targeted killing and an act of terrorism," Muqaddas Haider – a senior police officer – said, without naming possible suspects.

Bullet holes numbered by police investigators are seen on the windshield of Amjad Sabri's car.

Grisly mobile phone footage of the scene of the crime shot by an onlooker showed the singer's head slumped on his right shoulder and a pool of blood on the ground by the driver's side where he sat.

Taliban claims responsibility

A spokesman for a branch of the Taliban, Qari Saifullah Saif, claimed the killing late on Wednesday, saying it was in retaliation for a song that the hard-line group considers blasphemous.

In 2014, Sabri was caught up in a blasphemy case involving a Qawwali he had sung on a morning television show that mentioned religious figures in a way some deemed offensive.

The Taliban have carried out major attacks on Sufi mosques and shrines in recent years, including the 2010 bombing of the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore that killed more than 40 people.

Nation mourns Sabri’s death

Amjad Sabri’s murder was condemned across the country. Relatives, friends, artistes, singers and fans congregated outside his home to offer condolences to his family. TV channels broadcast recordings of his music in tribute.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the assassination of Sabri and directed the authorities concerned to find the killers and bring them to book. He paid tribute to the services of Amjad Sabri for promoting Qawwali.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also condemned the killing and termed it an open challenge to the law and order and writ of the state.

"First the kidnapping of Awais Shah, son of the sitting chief justice of the Sindh High Court, and now the ghastly assassination of Amjad Sabri are part of a sinister conspiracy as both incidents appeared professionally organised by terrorist elements and their sponsors," he said in a statement.

Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of Pakistan's parliament, expressed his grief and shock over the murder of Sabri in a tweet:

Sabri's legacy

Sabri, the son of another legendary Qawwali singer, Ghulam Farid Sabri, who died in 1994, was a fixture on national television and regularly performed on a morning show during the ongoing holy month of Ramadan.

The Sabri family rose to fame in the 1970s. Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri redefined the genre of Qawwali singing.

Some of the most famous Qawwali of the Sabri brothers include "Tajdar-e-Haram" and "Bhar Do Jholi."

TRTWorld and agencies