Assassinated Pakistani Christian government official taped prophetic death message

In what turned out to be his farewell statement, Shahbaz Bhatti talked about being threatened by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but that this would not deter him from speaking for “oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities” in Pakistan. “I will die to defend their rights,” he said. “These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles.”

The Blaze –The killing of Bhatti, a 42-year-old Roman Catholic, further undermines Pakistan’s shaky image as a moderate Islamic state and could deepen the political turmoil in this nuclear-armed, U.S.-allied state where militants frequently stage suicide attacks.

Assailants purportedly sent by al-Qaida and the Taliban killed the only Christian member of Pakistan’s federal Cabinet Wednesday, spraying his car with bullets outside his mother’s driveway. It was the second assassination in two months of a high-profile opponent of blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The Vatican said the assassination shows that the pope’s warnings about the danger to Christians in the region are fully justified.

Bhatti, a campaigner for human rights causes, had apparently been aware of the danger he was in and left a video-taped message with the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Al-Jazeera satellite TV station to be broadcast in the event of his death.

Despite the threats, Bhatti, who had been assigned bodyguards, was without protection when he visited his mother in the capital of Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon, police said. The politician had just pulled out of the driveway of the house, where he frequently stayed, when three men standing nearby opened fire, said Gulam Rahim, a witness.

In leaflets left at the scene of the shooting, al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement in Punjab province claimed responsibility. They blamed the government for putting Bhatti, an “infidel Christian,” in charge of an unspecified committee, apparently referring to one said to be reviewing the blasphemy laws. The government has repeatedly said such a committee does not exist.

“With the blessing of Allah, the mujahedeen will send each of you to hell,” said the note, which did not name any other targets.

Government officials condemned the killing, but made no reference to the blasphemy law controversy.