Lawyer’s apprentice arrested for aiding murder of U.S. blasphemy suspect in Pakistan

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PESHAWAR — Police have arrested a man believed to have helped a teenage murder suspect to bring a gun into a courtroom and kill an American who was on trial for blasphemy in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, police said on Thursday.

The victim, Tahir Naseem, 57, from Chicago, was appearing for a bail hearing last month when Faisal Khan, 15, allegedly pulled out a gun and shot him in the courtroom, telling bystanders he was killing him for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Investigators now believe Khan was given the gun by a man named Tufail Zia, who was able to smuggle the weapon past security checkpoints because he was associated with the legal fraternity, the Peshawar police chief’s office told Reuters.

Zia, who was arrested on Tuesday, was exempt from a pat-down search by court security, police said. The head of the city’s bar council told Reuters Zia was an apprentice to one of the prosecuting lawyers.

Since his arrest, Khan has been lionized as a “holy warrior” by supporters in Pakistan. He has posed for selfies with his police escort and thousands have rallied in Peshawar calling for his release.

Blasphemy is a capital crime in Pakistan, and those even accused of it have often faced vigilantism.

The U.S. State Department has called on Pakistan to prosecute those responsible for the killing.

Khan’s lawyer, Inamullah Yusufzai, told Reuters his client had not yet entered a plea, but he had asked the court to conduct the trial in the prison where he was being held, given the sensitive nature of the case.

Yusufzai said the trial could begin as early as next week. (Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing and additional reporting by Umar Farooq in Islamabad; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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