Target killing of two prayer leaders in Quetta leaves authorities searching for motive

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The target killing of two prayer leaders within a space of 24 hours in the small town of Kuchlak, outside Quetta has left the authorities perplexed and rummaging for possible motives.

Kuchlak town in the outskirts of Quetta, Balochistan

The first attack took place at Al-Haj mosque situated on the Quetta-Chaman highway in Kuchlak. A bomb planted under the pulpit of the mosque went off as over 50 people led by the mosque’s Imam Hafiz Ahmadullah offered Friday prayers. The attack killed four people including the prayer leader. It was revealed later that the Imam, Hafiz Ahmadullah was the younger brother of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada.

Twenty-four hours later, a bike pulled up outside a shop in Kuchlak bazar. The bikers opened fire on a 50 years old man sitting outside the shop. The man received multiple bullet injuries and succumbed to his wounds on the spot while his attackers fled the scene. The deceased was identified as Maulvi Muhammad Azam, an Afghan national as well as an imam of a mosque Usman bin Afaan in Kuchlak.

No individual or organization has accepted responsibility for the attacks so far.

Although there is no evidence that the two attacks were linked, the fact that the two deceased were prayer leaders and both Afghan nationals has led to speculations regarding the motives behind the attacks. Particularly, the killing of Hafiz Ahmadullah is being perceived as politically motivated.

Hafiz Ahmadullah – Image courtesy: Dhaka Tribune

In a statement to media, Afghan Taliban said  Hafiz Ahmadullah’s killing was an attempt to derail the ongoing talks between the US and Afghan Taliban for peace in Afghanistan. The peace process will continue as they were close to achieving their goals, the Taliban spokesperson said.

The incident received wide courage across national as well as international media.

Top Pakistani English daily, Dawn  highlighted the possible security lapse that gave way to presence of a high profile target just outside Quetta and the ease with which his killers, most probably hostile foreign agencies were able to eliminate him. Dawn said presence of a close relative of Afghan Taliban chief near Quetta could give life to rumours regarding the so-called Quetta Shura of Afghan Taliban operating from Balochistan.

Global media network, Al Jazeera claimed that Quetta Shura did operate from Quetta, and quite possibly from this very mosque.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada- Image courtesy: Pakistan Today

This mosque was a place where most of the Taliban members used to meet and discuss issues,” Al Jazeera wrote, quoting a source.

It claimed that the present Emir of Afghan Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah also served as the Imam of this mosque.

The duties of the mosque were handed over to Ahmadullah by Haibatullah after he was appointed as the emir of the Taliban group”, the global news outlet claimed.

Daily Times opined that the killings could be a result of infighting in the Taliban or actions of foreign hostile agencies.

Urdu newspaper, Daily Jang and Daily Nawaiwaqt viewed the attacks as an Indian ploy to destabilize Balochistan and hence, Pakistan.

As the media remained largely focused on the killing of Ahmadullah, no explanation could be provided for the murder of Maulvi Muhammad Azam. Balochistan Police has said investigation into the attacks was underway and findings would be made public soon.

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