KARACHI, Pakistan — Gunmen on a motorcycle killed a prominent women's rights activist in Pakistan just hours after she held a forum on the country's restive Baluchistan region, home to a long-running insurgency, police said Saturday.
While investigators declined to speculate on a motive for the killing of Sabeen Mehmud, friends and colleagues immediately described her death as a targeted assassination in Pakistan, a country with a nascent democracy where the military and intelligence services still hold tremendous sway.
The gunmen shot both Mehmud and her mother, Mehnaz Mehmud, as they stopped at a traffic light Friday night in an upscale Karachi neighborhood, senior police officer Zafar Iqbal said. Later, journalists saw their car at a nearby police station, the front driver's side window smashed out and a pair of sandals on the floorboard, broken glass all around them. Blood stained the car's white body.
"Two men riding a motorcycle opened fire on the car," Iqbal said. Mehmud "died on her way to the hospital. Her mother was also wounded."
Alia Chughtai, a close friend of Mehmud, told The Associated Press that Mehmud was driving at the time of attack and her mother was sitting next to her. Chughtai said Mehmud's driver, who escaped unharmed, was sitting in the back seat at the time of the attack. She said she did not know why the driver wasn't driving the car.
Iqbal and other police officials declined to offer a motive for the slaying. However, earlier that night, Mahmud hosted an event at her organization called The Second Floor to discuss human rights in Baluchistan, an impoverished but resource-rich southwestern province bordering Iran.
Thousands of people have disappeared from the province in recent years amid a government crackdown on nationalists and insurgent groups there. Activists blame the government for the disappearances, something authorities deny.
Qadeer Baluch, an activist who last year led a nearly 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) protest march across Pakistan to demand justice for the missing in Baluchistan, attended Mehmud's event Friday night. Baluch, known widely as Mama or "Uncle" in Urdu, hinted that the government could be involved in Mehmud's slaying.
"Everybody knows who killed her and why," Baluch told Pakistan's The Nation newspaper, without elaborating.
In a statement Saturday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned Mehmud's killing and ordered an investigation into the attack. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad also condemned Mehmud's slaying and offered condolences to her loved ones.
Mehmud was "a courageous voice of the Pakistani people and her death represents a great loss," it said.
Mahmud, a well-known activist who also ran a small tech company, hosted poetry readings, computer workshops and other events at The Second Floor. She continued to live in Karachi, Pakistan's southern port city, even while acknowledging the danger from insurgent groups and criminals operating there.
"Fear is just a line in your head," Mahmud told Wired magazine in 2013. "You can choose what side of that line you want to be on."
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.