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Holy warrior' selfies: Pakistan teen feted for killing US blasphemy suspect

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ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) — Faisal Khan, a 15-year-old Pakistani, beams for selfies with lawyers and police. Thousands hail him in the streets as a “holy warrior.”

His claim to adulation? Gunning down in open court an American accused of blasphemy, a capital crime in this Islamic republic.

Khan is charged with murder, which also carries a death sentence. But while lawyers line up to defend him, the attorney for Tahir Naseem, the U.S. citizen, has gone into hiding.

The teen, according to officials and witnesses, got through three security checkpoints on his way into a courtroom in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on July 29, pulled out a pistol and fired multiple shots into Naseem, 57, at a bail hearing.

Naseem died on the spot, onlookers spattered with his blood.

His killing grabbed global headlines, put a fresh spotlight on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and drew criticism from abroad, even as many in the country praised the shooter. The United States and human rights groups decried the killing and urged changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, among the harshest in the world.

Closer to home, Khan is a hero.

“It’s one of those cases where everyone wants to be his lawyer,” Inamullah Yusufzai, who represented Khan at his first court hearing last week, told Reuters. Yusufzai said lawyers from across Pakistan had called to defend Khan for free, to support what they see as the justified killing of a heretic.

The case has not reached the stage for Khan to enter a plea.

Thousands rallied, calling for Khan’s release. Delegations of well-wishers — lawyers, clerics, local politicians — have visited the Khan family home in Peshawar to congratulate the family. He has received messages of support from the Pakistani Taliban.

A selfie shot by Elite Force police guards in a van escorting Khan to court after his arrest was shared widely on social media. Wearing all white, the teen grins broadly. Several officers smile, one gives a thumbs-up.

A senior police official, who said the force had looked the photo, said it was authentic. Reuters could not independently confirm its authenticity.

Another selfie shows a crowd, some black-clad lawyers, escorting a beaming Khan into court.

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