ISLAMABAD - Unknown assailants in Pakistan have stabbed to death a university professor who was an Ahmadi Muslim, a minority group often considered the country's most persecuted religious sect.
Police in the eastern city of Lahore said Tuesday that they had found the body of Tahira Malik , 61, in the residential colony of the University of Punjab. She lay in a pool of blood, with stab wounds on her face and neck, officers said.
The microbiology professor was retired but continued to teach at the university, one of Pakistan's oldest and most prestigious institutions.
Jamaatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the extremist Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for Malik's death. The same group had said it was behind the recent deaths of two other high-profile members of Pakistan's Ahmadi community: A doctor of veterinary medicine was killed earlier this month in Lahore, while gunmen in Nankana shot dead a prominent Ahmadi community member late last month.
Counterterrorism experts joined police investigating the latest case.
Founded in 19th century
The Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyyah) Muslim community was founded in Punjab near the end of the 19th century. It has millions of members worldwide, but is reviled by the overwhelming majority of Pakistani Muslims because of doctrinal differences.
The followers of the Ahmadi sect believe its founding leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the second coming of the Messiah.
This belief is a departure from that of mainstream Muslims, who consider Muhammad to be the last prophet of God. In 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared the Ahmadi sect as "non-Muslim."
The Ahmadi community has long been a target of sectarian violence in Pakistan. In 2010, attacks on two separate Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan killed 94 people and wounded over 150.
The Ahmadi community recently released its annual report, which noted an increase in violence against Ahmadis and their mosques across Pakistan in 2016.
Ahmadi leaders have criticized the government for inaction over targeted killings.
"The government is not courageous enough to take a stand for minorities publicly," political scientist Hasan Askari told VOA.
The lawyer killed in Nankana was a relative of professor Abdus Salam, a renowned theoretical physicist who was Pakistan's first Nobel laureate.
Salam fled from Pakistan in 1974, five years before his Nobel award, to protest enactment of the constitutional amendment declaring members of the Ahmadi community to be non-Muslims. He lived in Britain until his death in 1996.