Moulana Rashid Farqqi, an official for the sectarian Sunni Muslim group Sipah-e-Sahaba said he had seen Azam Tariq’s dead body among those killed in the attack by unidentified gunmen. "Yes, it was Tariq...the others were his driver and colleagues."

Tariq's personal secretary, Rashid Mahmud Faruqi, told Reuters the lawmaker had been travelling to Islamabad in a government vehicle, the same one witnesses saw at the scene full of bullet holes.

The killing comes after a spate of sectarian violence in Pakistan, culminating in the worst attack in years in July when suspected Sunni Muslims killed at least 57 Shia worshippers in an attack on a mosque, in the southwestern city of Quetta.

On Friday, six Shia Muslims were gunned down while on their way to the mosque for Friday prayers. Two or three gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on the bus carrying the six. Five were killed on the spot and a sixth died in hospital.

Groupings banned

Tariq's group, was one of seven groups outlawed by President Pervez Musharraf in a crackdown on religious violence in the area. Sipah-e-Sahaba has been accused of involvement in a wave of violence between Pakistan's dominant Sunni Muslims and the smaller Shia community, who account for about 15% of the 149 million population. 

Tariq said he had been unfairly
branded a terrorist

But like other outfits, Sipah-e-Sahaba now officially works under a new name and its leader, Tariq, was allowed to contest successfully a parliamentary election in October 2002.

In an interview in February, Tariq told Reuters he had been unfairly branded a terrorist by the Western media. Tariq was born in Punjab in 1962 and went on to study at a religious seminaries in Faisalabad and Karachi before setting up SSP in 1986.

In 1997, Tariq was injured in a remote-controlled bomb attack in the city of Lahore in which 23 people, including an SSP leader, were killed. The attack was blamed on Shias.