American doctor shot dead in Pakistan in suspected sectarian attack

Katharine Houreld

By Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A volunteer American cardiologist was shot dead in Pakistan on Monday, a member of his minority Ahmadi community said, the latest attack on a group which says it is Muslim but whose religion is rejected by the state.

Mehdi Ali had taken his five-year-old son and a cousin to a graveyard in Punjab province at dawn to pray when he was shot, said Salim ud Din, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community.

"He came here just one or two days ago to work at our heart hospital, to serve humanity and for his country," said Din. "Two persons came on motor-bikes. They shot 11 bullets in him."

Ali was born in Pakistan but moved abroad in 1996. He had returned to do voluntary work at a state-of-the-art heart hospital built by the Ahmadi community in the eastern town of Rabwah.

Ali, 51, moved to Columbus, Ohio, in the United States, where he founded an Ahmadi center and raised funds for medical charities in Pakistan, said Din.

He is survived by a wife and three young sons, said Din.

"We are waiting for an application from the family after which we will start investigations," said local police officer Ahmed Ali.

The Ahmadis believe there was a prophet after Mohammed. Pakistani law says they are not Muslims, although Ahmadis insist that they are.

Ahmadis have often been jailed or lynched for blasphemy for things like offering Islamic prayers or reading the Koran.

Ali's killing follows the fatal shooting of a 65-year-old Ahmadi man last week. A teenage gunman killed Khalil Ahmad in police custody after the grandfather was arrested on blasphemy charges for objecting to stickers denouncing his religion.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan and cases against both religious minorities and Muslims are rising.

Some mullahs promise that killing Ahmadis earns a place in heaven and give out leaflets listing their home addresses. Few attacks are ever solved even when the victims can identify their attackers.

Seven Ahmadis were killed and 16 survived attempted assassinations last year, according to an annual report produced by the Ahmadi community in Pakistan.

Others were driven from their homes or had businesses seized.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Nick Macfie)