A leading Pakistani politician living in exile in Britain has been murdered outside his London suburban home, sparking a major police investigation, party leaders said today. Imran Farooq, a founding member of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a major political force in the country's biggest city of Karachi, was found with head injuries and stab wounds in north London yesterday. The party announced his death on its website and declared 10 days of mourning, scrapping birthday celebrations for its leader, Altaf Hussain, who is also based in London.
British police said they were called to reports of a serious assault in the Edgware district of the capital at 5.30pm. "Officers found an Asian man, aged 50, with stab wounds and head injuries. Paramedics treated the man but he was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:37pm," said a spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police. Next of kin have been informed and no arrests made, said the spokesman. "The party cancelled our chief Altaf Hussain's birthday celebrations after the incident," MQM's leader in Pakistan, Farooq Sattar, said. Mr Farooq was a leader who "rendered tremendous services for the party," he said.
Sattar declined to comment when asked who may have killed him and why. "Authorities in London are investigating and we hope that his killer will soon be arrested and get punished," he said. Pakistan's prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned what his office called Mr Farooq's "assassination". Party faithful have been gathering outside Farooq's home in Karachi, consoling each other and many had tears in their eyes.
The city woke to a quiet morning today, after markets and restaurants closed early after news of the killing spread late yesterday. City police chief Fayyaz Leghari said that police had been put on alert across the city and deployed around the MQM leader's house as a precaution. The murder of an MQM politician, Raza Haider, in Karachi last month triggered a wave of political and ethnic killing in the city, leaving more than 80 dead.
MQM is a partner in the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital. "There is an alert in the city with all measures taken to ensure peace," said Mr Leghari. "At present the city is calm and peaceful." One police official said that angry mourners set fire to around half a dozen vehicles in the city overnight. Karachi is plagued by ethnic and sectarian killings, crime and kidnappings, exacerbating woes in a country battling with unprecedented flooding that has killed more than 1,500 people and affected up to 21 million.
Mr Farooq and Mr Hussain created the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation in 1978 - representing the Urdu-speaking majority population in Karachi. He was its secretary general and remained so after the student wing was converted into MQM, a fully fledged party, six years later. He was twice elected MP but went into hiding in 1992, when the government ordered a military crackdown against party activists in Karachi.
He was wanted over scores of charges, including murder and torture. Mr Farooq always maintained that the charges were politically motivated and he re-emerged in London in 1999, when he claimed asylum in Britain. Although he was officially number two in MQM and was popular within the party, his role was relatively low-key. The London Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Mr Farooq said in 1992 that he was wanted "dead or alive".
"(This gave) licence and impunity to every individual in Pakistan to assassinate me," he was quoted as saying. "It was impossible for me to remain in Pakistan due to the continued threat on my life and liberty," he added. London has hosted a number of exiled Pakistani politicians. Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf currently lives in the British capital. Mr Farooq is survived by his widow Shumaila and two sons.