GUJRANWALA -  Protests broke out in Gujranwala on Saturday after three people were killed in separate incidents of firing at Imambargahs.

A prayer leader of an Imambargah in Shahrukh Colony was killed while he was in the middle of recitation, while two worshippers were killed in the morning in firing at a Mominpur area Imambargah.

Eyewitnesses said that in both the incidents the culprits came on motorcycles and fired gunshots with silencer-fitted pistols, resulting in the casualties. The attackers fled after the assaults.

Unidentified assailants entered into Imambargah Qasr-e-Abu-Talib at the time of Fajar prayer and opened fire at the worshipers. Yousaf and Amanat Ali sustained multiple bullet wounds and both died on the spot.

After that, the armed men attacked Imambargah Qasr-e-Zainbia in the nearby Shahrukh Colony and gunned down mosque Imam, Syed Javed, who was also finance secretary of Ulema Mashaikh Council.

Enraged relatives of the victims and others from the Shia community protested by placing the dead bodies on a street near Ali Chowk. Some protestors also tried to get shops closed in the area. They chanted slogans against the provincial government and said that police failed to provide them proper security.

Gujranwala DCO, along with police officers, reached the spot and assured the protesters that the culprits would be arrested soon. After his assurances the protesters dispersed peacefully. Gujranwala CPO Raja Riffat Mukhtar also vowed to arrest the attackers as soon as possible. Sources said the police had arrested six suspects, including three Afghan nationals.

However, Gujranwala Regional Police Officer (RPO) admitted that no police official was on duty at both the Imambargahs. Talking to the media, he said there are 670 Imambargahs in the Division and it is impossible for him to deploy police force at all of them.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif strongly condemned the attacks. Provincial government and the district administration urged the Ulema to help restore peace in the city.

The incidents occurred on the fourth of Muharram, few days after the Punjab government had imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) for one month, starting from the first of Muharram (November 5).

According to government, Punjab home secretary had imposed Section 144 CrPC throughout the province to maintain law and order during the holy month. Under this law, brandishing of firearms, distribution of hate material, wall chalking and hate speech has been banned.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, while chairing a high level meeting on November 5, had directed authorities to take all necessary measures for ensuring religious harmony during Muharram. The law enforcing agencies were also directed to observe strict imposition of Section 144.

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif Saturday strongly condemned the firing incident targeting Imambargahs in Gujranwala, which resulted in loss of precious human lives, said a statement released in Islamabad.

Sympathising deeply with the bereaved families, the prime minister prayed to Allah Almighty to bless the departed souls with eternal peace and grant courage to their families to bear the irreparable loss with fortitude.

State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad also condemned the firing incident in Gujranwala. Chairing a special meeting in Attock, the minister said culprits will soon be arrested and brought to justice.

He said security arrangements for all the Imambargahs and mourning processions will be ensured and for this purpose foolproof security measures have been taken.

 Staff Reporter from Lahore adds: Punjab Minister for Law and Local Governments Rana Sanaullah said on Saturday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are facing security threats.

The minster also informed newsmen bout the terror threats during Moharramul Haraam.

To a question on the release of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, Sanaullah said the government would abide by the court verdict in this regard, and if the court pronounced him culprit he would be treated accordingly.

The minister further said prima facie Musharraf was guilty of Article 6 of the Constitution [high treason] and a committee had been formed to investigate high treason charges against him. Prosecution would be started if the committee found him liable to sedition charges, he added.

The minister, to another query, said the Punjab government would provide due security to Musharraf if he came to Punjab.