Imran Khan, the former Pakistani prime minister, was shot in the leg several times on Thursday in an attack his party called an “assassination attempt”.Watch: Gunman opens fire on Imran Khan
A gunman wielding an automatic weapon opened fire on Mr Khan as the truck he was riding on passed through the western city of Wazirabad, about 110 miles south-east of Islamabad, Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said.
The PTI’s Imran Ismail said Mr Khan was hit in the leg “three to four” times. He told Pakistan’s Bol TV that he was standing next to the former Pakistani leader when the attack occurred.
The unnamed gunman was apprehended by one of Mr Khan’s team before he was about to unleash a second volley of gunfire aimed at the former international cricket captain.
In a police interview released on Thursday evening, the suspect, who has not yet been identified, told police he had targeted Mr Khan because his convoy had repeatedly played music while the call to prayer was being sounded.
“He was misguiding the people. I wanted to kill him. I tried to kill him,” said the gunman.
Since last Friday, Mr Khan has been leading a march from the city of Lahore towards Islamabad, calling for fresh elections after he was ousted from office this spring.
Every day during his so-called “long march”, 70-year-old Mr Khan has mounted a shipping container towed by a lorry, making speeches from the open top to crowds of thousands in cities and towns along the way.
Mr Khan has reportedly been transferred to a hospital in Lahore, where he is undergoing surgery and there are conflicting reports as to his condition.
Some officials said Mr Khan’s condition was stable but Shehbaz Gill, PTI’s party leader, said the former leader would have to fight until his last breath.
“The cowards have shown their truth. Imran Khan is injured, may Allah protect him, the whole nation should pray for the life of Imran Khan,” tweeted Farrukh Habib, another PTI leader.
One PTI official died in the attack, according to the Pakistani media, while seven members of Mr Khan’s party have been wounded. A photograph of Faisal Javed, the PTI leader, covered in blood has been shared widely on social media.
Mr Khan has been embroiled in a war of words with Pakistan’s all powerful military and intelligence services since he was ousted from power in April.
Last week, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence held the first public press conference in the country’s 75-year history to allege Mr Khan had tried to remain in power by offering the country’s military a secret power-sharing deal.
This followed allegations from Mr Khan’s party that the country’s establishment was behind the shooting of a pro-Khan journalist, Arshad Sharif, in Kenya.
PTI leaders quickly alleged the country’s powerful military and intelligence services, known in Pakistan as “the establishment”, were behind the attack.
“[The] string pullers and the establishment will be held responsible by the nation for this murderous attack on Imran Khan,” said Shireen Mazari, a PTI leader.
“Yes, Imran Khan is injured, it’s a bullet injury. An assassination attempt has been made on him,” added Fawad Chaudhry, an aide to Mr Khan.
Asad Umar, another PTI leader, said “they couldn’t stop him, so the cowards tried to kill him [Mr Khan]”.
In March, the PTI claimed a conspiracy was being hatched to assassinate Mr Khan and urged him to wear a bullet-proof vest at political rallies.
Shehbaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, condemned the attack on Mr Khan “in the strongest words” and said he would launch a full investigation into the shooting.
“Violence should have no place in our country’s politics,” he said.
Mr Khan’s supporters announced they would hold protests across the country following the shooting, raising fears of widespread unrest.
Since being ousted from power Mr Khan has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity among the Pakistani public and won several important by-elections.
His party believes it would be voted back into power if an election was held in the coming months.
Police had already been deployed in large numbers to contain Mr Khan’s march.
Mr Sharif has warned that demonstrators will be met with violence if they try to enter Islamabad’s “red zone”, which contains the country’s government building and judiciary.
Pakistan has a long history of violence against politicians. The country’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951, and more recently, in 2007, two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto was murdered in a twin shooting and suicide bombing in the city of Rawalpindi.