Imran Khan, a former prime minister of Pakistan, was wounded in an apparent assassination attempt Thursday while he was leading his ongoing anti-government march on Islamabad.
The 70-year-old populist leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was hit by at least one bullet in his right leg, his senior aide, Rauf Hassan, confirmed to VOA.
The attack in Wazirabad town, central Punjab province, left at least one person dead and 14 others wounded, including the former prime minister.
Khan was transported to a hospital in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, about 150 kilometers from the site of the attack, where doctors said he was in stable condition, according to the aide.
Video footage showed a gunman firing from the ground at Khan, who was atop a purpose-built truck leading the protest march.
Witnesses said a participant quickly attempted to overpower the suspected shooter while he was still firing with his automatic weapon and fatally hit a marcher. Police later took the suspected assailant into custody. In a purported video confession later released to reporters, the suspect said he acted alone and that his only mission was to kill Khan for "misleading" the public.
PTI leaders questioned the identity of the detained suspect, however, and his subsequent video confession, saying that it was an attempt to cover up the assassination plot and that there had been more than one assailant. Provincial police later confirmed that there were two shooters and that efforts were under way to arrest the second person.
"It was a well-planned assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the assassin planned to kill Imran Khan and leadership of PTI," tweeted Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a central leader of Khan's party. He said that "it was a burst from automatic weapons" and a "narrow escape" for his chief.
Faisal Javed, a close Khan associate and member of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, was among those injured. He also confirmed the casualties while speaking to reporters outside a local hospital in his bloodstained clothes.
Thursday's attack angered Khan's supporters, who took to the streets of major Pakistan cities to protest the attempt on his life. The demonstrations continued past midnight.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the shooting, saying he had directed the interior minister to immediately submit a report on the incident.
"I pray for the recovery and health of PTI chairman & other injured people. [The] Federal government will extend all support necessary to Punjab gov't for security & investigation. Violence should have no place in our country's politics," Sharif tweeted.
The Pakistani military's media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), in a statement condemned the attack.
"Sincere prayers for precious life lost and speedy recovery and well being of Chairman PTI Mr. Imran Khan and all those injured in this unfortunate incident," said the ISPR.
Khan issued a statement from his hospital bed, accusing the government and the military of plotting the attack, allegations officials denied.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States "strongly condemns" the shooting of Khan. He wished the Pakistani politician and others a quick recovery while offering condolences to the family of the individual who was killed.
"Violence has no place in politics, and we call on all parties to refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation. The United States is deeply committed to a democratic and peaceful Pakistan, and we stand with the Pakistani people," Blinken said.
The United Nations condemned and stressed the importance of a "full and transparent investigation" into the shooting. "We very much hope that this will not create further challenges to the political situation in Pakistan," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
Saudi Arabia expressed its "strong condemnation and denunciation of the attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Imran Khan." A foreign ministry statement reaffirmed that the "Kingdom's standing with Pakistan and its people against all threats to its security, stability and development process."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter the attack on Khan and his supporters "is completely unacceptable, and I strongly condemn this violence."
Khan launched his so-called long march from Lahore last Friday, saying he and his supporters planned to stage a sit-in in Islamabad to press the Sharif government into holding early elections. The rally is moving slowly, and it is expected to reach the Pakistani capital in about a week, according to PTI leaders.
The cricket-star-turned-opposition politician was ousted in a vote of no confidence in April. But Khan rejected his removal as illegal, saying it was orchestrated by the United States in collusion with Sharif and Pakistan's powerful military — an allegation he has yet to substantiate with evidence and that Washington and Islamabad deny.
The ousted prime minister has been able to mobilize tens of thousands of people at his anti-government rallies across Pakistan. His growing popularity has enabled the PTI to sweep recent by-elections for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and the Punjab legislature, allowing Khan to step up pressure on the Sharif government to call snap general elections.