Shi'ite professor, driver shot dead in Pakistan violence

Reuters

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Shi'ite university professor and his driver were shot dead in Pakistan on Tuesday in the latest incident in a wave of spiraling sectarian violence in the nuclear-armed country.

Tension is high in Pakistan this month as minority Shi'ites mark Muharram, an annual period of mourning that has often triggered bouts of violence.

Sectarian violence appears to be spreading after clashes between minority Shi'ite and majority Sunni Muslims in the garrison town of Rawalpindi near Islamabad, the capital, prompted the government to impose a curfew and block mobile telephone services over the weekend.

Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, the director of student services at the University of Gujrat, was on his way to work when gunmen on a motorcycle sprayed his car with bullets and sped off.

"He had barely turned the corner of his house when he was attacked," said policeman Amir Malik. "By the time the ambulance arrived, he and his driver were both dead."

The police officer confirmed that Shah belonged to the Shi'ite sect that makes up a fifth of Pakistan's population and has suffered a rising number of attacks in recent years.

Most of the attacks are the work of Sunni extremists affiliated with banned groups such as the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which wants to drive all Shi'ites out of Pakistan.

"We found a note at the scene of Shah's death which read: 'This is retaliation for Rawalpindi'," deputy superintendent of police Manzoor Malik told Reuters, referring to the clashes in Rawalpindi over the weekend in which eight people were killed.

"The note was signed, 'Lashkar-e-Jhangvi'."

More than 800 Shi'ites have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan since 2012, including about 400 this year, figures released by Human Rights Watch in November show.

(Corrects to clarify name of university in paragraph 4)

(Additional reporting by Asim Tanveer and Amjad Ali; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Clarence Fernandez)

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