Slain Pakistani Christian Minister's Brother Says Probe 'Finally on Right Track'

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – An investigation into the assassination of a Christian Pakistani government minister who criticized the country's rigid Islamic blasphemy law is on "the right track," his brother said on Thursday.

Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in March, was Pakistan's minister for minorities' affairs and campaigned for the rights of Christians before he was gunned down in Islamabad – apparently by Islamist extremists.

"The investigations into the homicide of my brother are finally on the right track," Paul Bhatti, currently an adviser to Pakistan's government on religious minorities told the Catholic Fides news agency.

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"It was committed by the Taliban and Islamist fanatics. Now, we are waiting for the capture of the perpetrators, who are in Dubai," he said. He added that investigators have determined that al-Qaida's "Brigade 313," led by feared militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri, asked a Taliban commander based in Pakistan’s Punjab province named Asmatullah Mawaia to kill his brother.

There were people who tried to suggest the official was killed by those close to him, but, "the truth has emerged," Paul Bhatti said. "We were convinced that he had been killed for his work, for his defense of human rights (and) the rights of Christians. ... The investigation has proved us right," he added

Bhatti called for the investigation to be quickly concluded and for the culprits to be arrested, which, he said, "would be a good sign for the rule of law in Pakistan."

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan had last week ordered the release of a suspect held in connection with the assassination after the police failed to produce any evidence against him. Special Judge ATC-II Syed Pervaiz Ali Shah directed the police to free Hafiz Nazar Muhammad, while denying an extension of physical remand for the suspect.

Muhammad was arrested on June 19, after he made calls to different people claiming he knew about the assassins of the former federal minister for minorities. The judge asked the police whether the suspect was nominated in the first information report and if they had managed to obtain any useful information from him.

However, the in-charge of the investigation could not come up with a satisfactory answer, resulting in the court’s direction to set him free.

The investigators had informed the court that Muhammad was traced through his cell phone after he made several calls to different persons, including minorities MPA Tahir Nazeer Chaudhry, claiming he knew of Bhatti’s assassins.

Shahbaz Bhatti was shot as he left his mother's home in a residential area of Islamabad. Police said the attackers fired at least 25 bullets at his vehicle. A letter found at the scene, purportedly from supporters of al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Bhatti, who left a chilling video prophecy of his assassination, had vowed to fight to the death in defense of Pakistan's persecuted minorities. He became the second high-profile victim among opponents of the blasphemy law.

Two months before he was killed, Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his own police bodyguards, who cited the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law as justification for the killing.

Both Bhatti and Taseer had angered extremists by demanding a review of the controversial blasphemy law in light of the case of Asia Bibi – the first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

Bibi, a Christian mother of two and stepmother to three others, was accused of blasphemy against Islam’s prophet. Although she has denied speaking ill of the Muslim prophet, she was beaten and has been imprisoned since June 2009. Bibi is still in prison and waiting for a court hearing date for her appeal.

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