American doctor killed in Pakistan amid wave of violence aimed at Ahmadi Muslims

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the country where Jerry Umanos was killed. He was killed in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. This version has been corrected.

May 26

An American doctor was shot and killed in eastern Pakistan on Monday, in what appeared to be the latest attack targeting Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities here.

Mehdi Ali Qamar, a cardiologist who practices in suburban Columbus, Ohio, had traveled to Pakistan’s Punjab province late last week to volunteer at a local heart clinic and visit relatives, according to Ahmadi community leaders. At around sunrise Monday, he went to an Ahmadi cemetery to visit the graves of several family members.

As he neared the gate, two men on motorcycles shot him 11 times in front his wife and toddler son, officials said. Police had no suspects and did not know the motive for the killing, a spokesman said.

But a photograph of Qamar lying on the ground in a blood-soaked shirt was posted on Twitter, and it made him the latest symbol of the persecution facing members of the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan. Friends and relatives said Qamar, 50, grew up in Pakistan but moved to the United States more than a decade ago to pursue his medical career.

“It is a major crime against humanity that a doctor who came a few days back to serve his country has been killed,” said Saleemuddin, a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, the group that represents Pakistan’s Ahmadi population. The spokesman goes by one name.

The Ahmadi movement was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who said he was the messiah. The movement has about 10 million followers worldwide, including about 1.5 million in Pakistan. But some Muslims view Ahmadi as heretics, and they face persecution around the world.

In Pakistan, the faith is outlawed. Ahmadis here are not allowed to call themselves Muslims and are not eligible to vote. Members of the sect also routinely face arrest under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.

In recent years, hardline Sunni clerics have fanned even more prejudice against Ahmadis, leading to growing concerns about their safety.

In 2010, more than 85 people were killed when Taliban militants attacked two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Targeted killings against Ahmadis have resulted in more than 200 deaths during the past three decades, according to Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya.

Qamar Suleman, a Ahmadi activist in Lahore, said a 60-year-old shop keeper was killed last week while being detained in jail on blasphemy charges in the outskirts of Lahore. A man dressed in a police uniform slipped past the guards and shot him, Suleman said.

The assailant was arrested in that case. But Ahmadi activists say many crimes against them go unpunished. Activists have been calling on Pakistan’s government to do more to protect the community.

“It’s injustice upon injustice, and it’s getting no attention from the government,” said Qasim Rashid, national spokesman for the organization Ahmadiyyah Muslim Community, USA. “There is no accountability for acts of terrorism, and this has empowered the extremists and emboldened them.”

Rashid said Qamar was active in the group’s Ohio chapter. Qamar’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as an assistant cardiology professor at Ohio University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. A university spokeswoman could not immediately confirm Qamar’s employment there.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad confirmed Qamar was a U.S. citizen and said it was assisting his family.

Qamar traveled to Pakistan to volunteer at the Tahir Heart Institute, one of Pakistan’s most highly regarded medical clinics. In April, an American doctor who worked at a Christian hospital was also shot and killed in neighboring Afghanistan. That doctor, Jerry Umanos of Chicago, was apparently targeted because he was a Westerner.

Qamar’s killing is part of a broader pattern of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan.

Last fall, 85 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a Christian church in Peshawar. Hundreds of members of Pakistan’s Hazara community, who are Shiite Muslims, have also been killed in recent years, including more than two dozen in a bus bombing in January. During the past year, dozens of Shiite professionals have also been assassinated in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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