KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A senior police investigator known for arresting dozens of Pakistani Taliban was killed Thursday in a car bombing, a sharp blow to efforts to crack down on militant groups seeking to gain a foothold in the sprawling southern city of Karachi that's vital to the country's economy.
Chaudhry Aslam was traveling through a commercial area in the port city when a powerful explosion ripped apart the vehicle he was traveling in, police officer Amir Farooqi said. The blast killed two other officers with him, Farooqi said.
Aslam was known for being one of Karachi's toughest police officers who had escaped previous attempts on his life. In September 2011, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside his home. That blast killed eight people, though Aslam escaped unharmed and vowed to continue his work.
"This is a cowardly act," Aslam told local television at the time. "I'm not scared. I will not spare them."
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that bombing and for the one Thursday that killed Aslam. In a telephone call to The Associated Press, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Sajjad Mohmand said that they killed Aslam for torturing their associates.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killing, saying that it would not deter the morale of law enforcement agencies battling militancy.
In recent years, Karachi has seen a sharp growth in violence, which many worry has given militant groups such as the Taliban an opportunity to expand their presence in the massive city.
Aslam played a leading role in arresting scores of militants and other criminals there in recent years.
"He was a very brave man, that's for sure. He had a lot of courage in him," said Sharfuddin Memon, an adviser to the chief minister of the province in which Karachi is located. "Whenever there was some blast he was there on the scene right away without being scared."
Memon said Aslam's death could have been in response to a recent crackdown on crime by authorities in the city. After Karachi went through its most violent year on record in 2012, authorities launched an operation last September to crack down on criminal and militant networks there.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani court trying former army chief and President Pervez Musharraf for treason on Thursday ordered him to appear at a hearing Jan. 16, despite his lawyers saying he was too sick to attend.
The ruling was announced in Islamabad by court registrar Abdul Ghani Soomro, who also said that a medical report on Musharraf's health submitted earlier this week to the court indicated he had not suffered a heart attack as was rumored.
Musharraf has been staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology since last week when authorities rushed him there instead of taking him to court.
The prosecution claimed the dramatic hospital detour was a ploy to avoid appearing in court. Musharraf's defense lawyers have been pushing for him to be exempt from proceedings or even to be allowed to leave the country for treatment abroad.
Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.