Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was in stable condition after being shot in the leg at a political rally on Thursday in what the country’s president deemed “a heinous assassination attempt”.
The former international cricket star has been leading a chaotic convoy of thousands since Friday from the city of Lahore towards the capital, Islamabad, campaigning for fresh elections after being ousted from office in April.
“This was an attempt to kill him, to assassinate him,” senior aide, Raoof Hasan, told AFP.
Khan was wounded when shots were fired at him and other officials standing on the top of a modified container truck as it slowly drove through a thick crowd near Gujranwala.
“There was a guy who was in front of the container who had this automatic pistol. He fired a burst. Everyone who was standing in the very front row got hit,” former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was standing behind Khan, told AFP.
He said supporters in the crowd tried to snatch the gun from the attacker.
“In that scuffle, he missed the target. There was so much blood on the container.”
Six people on the container were hit and one supporter was killed, he said.
There was no immediate comment from the police.
Officials from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said Khan was being treated at a hospital in Lahore and was in stable condition.
Video published on social media shows Khan being in the hospital with a bandage around his right calf.
In a tweet, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi called it “a heinous assassination attempt”.
“I thank Allah that he is safe but injured with few bullets in his leg & hopefully non-critical,” he said.
– ‘Die for the country’ –
Pakistan has been grappling with Islamist militants for decades, and politicians are frequently targeted by assassination attempts.
The attack on Khan had echoes of the 2007 assassination of another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who died when a huge bomb detonated near her vehicle as she greeted supporters in Rawalpindi while standing up through the roof hatch.
Just months earlier she had survived another attempt on her life, when her motorcade was targeted in Karachi, killing more than 130 people.
Each day since starting his so-called “long march” 70-year-old Khan has mounted a shipping container towed by a lorry, making speeches from the open top to crowds of thousands in cities and towns along the way.
He was booted from office in April by a no-confidence vote after defections by some of his coalition partners, but he retains mass public support in the South Asian country.
Khan was voted into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform by an electorate tired of dynastic politics.
But his mishandling of the economy — and falling out with a military accused of helping his rise — sealed his fate.
Since then, he has railed against the establishment and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, which he says was imposed on Pakistan by a “conspiracy” involving the United States.
Khan has repeatedly told supporters he was prepared to die for the country, and aides have long warned of unspecified threats made on his life.