Gunmen kill former premier's lawyer in Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) - Just days after receiving death threats, a key lawyer for Pakistan's deposed prime minister was slain by gunmen who burst into his office Friday.

Police said attorney Iqbal Raad and two other men died. The attack came three days before closing arguments in the hijacking trial of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

''I have given up hope,'' said Sharif's wife, Khulsoom. ''If such a prominent lawyer involved in a high-profile case like this can be killed, why will anyone want to take our case?

''He received telephone calls and letters threatening him. He was very worried,'' she told reporters. ''They told him to quit the case.''

In Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said President Clinton has no plans to cancel his scheduled visit to Pakistan this month.

''Obviously we condemn this kind of horrific act of violence, and call upon them to investigate fully this assassination,'' Lockhart said. ''We believe the former prime minister deserves a free, open and transparent trial so that he and the rest of the world can see that justice is being done.''

Witnesses said one man with a Kalashnikov rifle and two men with pistols entered the lawyer's second-floor office and opened fire. A fourth gunman was seen standing guard outside the office building.

Police said they have no suspects in custody. The other two victims were Shehzad Kathri, also a lawyer, and Ghulam Abass, Raad's helper.

''We are looking into the possibility of terrorism,'' said Senior Superintendent of Police Akther Hasan Gorchani. ''We are also looking at whether there is any element of personal enmity involved in the murder.''

Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, called the attack an ''act of terrorism.''

Sharif was ousted in a coup in October after he tried to dismiss Musharraf as army chief. At the time, Musharraf was returning to the country on a plane with 200 people aboard. The plane landed after the army seized control.

Sharif and several aides were charged with hijacking, terrorism, attempted murder and kidnapping for endangering the lives of those aboard the plane. All the charges carry the death penalty or life in prison.

Raad, a former advocate general in Sharif's government, had complained that Sharif was being treated like a condemned prisoner. At one point, Raad said Sharif was being held in a dingy, mosquito-infested cell ''so small that he has to fold his cot to offer prayers.''

The trial is before a judge, who is expected to decide as early as one week after the end of closing arguments.

Raad and others have complained of a heavy presence of intelligence agents in the courtroom.

''The incident would indicate that the lawyers representing Nawaz Sharif are not safe,'' said Khawaja Sultan, another of Sharif's lawyers. ''He was in the forefront of Nawaz Sharif's defense team.''

''I am really shocked, horrified and scared,'' said Aftab Farrukh, another attorney. ''The intelligence agencies monitored the activities of all the defense lawyers.''

The Sindh High Court Bar Association said it would not attend court Saturday to protest the attack. ''It is a barbaric act,'' said Abul Inam, the association's president.

Raja Zafarul Haq, a spokesman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, wanted the army-led government to be accountable for Raad's murder.

''The government can't absolve itself from the murder,'' he said. ''The high-profile case was in its final stages and it was the government's responsibility to provide security to the lawyers.''


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