SODHRA, Pakistan - In an impoverished Pakistan suburb, neighbours of a mild-mannered scrap trader expressed shock on Friday that he was being held over an attempt on the life of former prime minister Imran Khan.
“We used to exchange pleasantries whenever we crossed paths in the street,” 34-year-old Shamshad Ali told AFP. “I found him to be a soft-spoken person, without an iota of anger.”
Naveed Ahmad is the sole suspect in custody after Mr Khan was wounded by a spray of gunfire at a political rally in the eastern city of Wazirabad on Thursday.
An apparent confession video leaked by police - and cited by the government - shows Ahmad saying he attacked Mr Khan because his protest interrupted the call to prayer, which summons Muslims to mosques five times daily.
The government’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said the attack was motivated on religious grounds.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party however, has condemned what it called a “conspiracy”, accusing government ministers and military generals of masterminding the attack.
In the town of Sodhra - on the outskirts of Wazirabad - AFP found Ahmad’s family home padlocked shut, down a dingy narrow alley lined by an open sewer.
Neighbours said his mother, wife and two sons were picked up by police shortly after the attack in which Mr Khan suffered non-life-threatening leg injuries, halting his march towards the capital Islamabad.
Police have not yet commented on the incident, but Punjab government officials confirmed the suspect’s name.
Imam Muhammad Munir, who makes the call to prayer at the local mosque, watched Ahmad come to worship there “quite often”, but considered him “the kind of person who minds his own business”.
“I never heard anything negative about him,” the 55-year-old said. “I never saw him fighting or exchanging harsh words with anyone.”
Hardline religious parties hold influence over swathes of Pakistan, but Ahmad’s fellow worshippers said he expressed no militant sentiments.
“Naveed was a simple boy and had no leanings towards any religious parties,” said 26-year-old Abrar Ahmad, no relation of the alleged attacker.
Numerous neighbours said Ahmad inherited a junk store from his deceased father and had worked in Saudi Arabia, a common destination for impoverished Pakistanis who send remittance payments to their families back home.
“I am surprised at how Naveed, who belongs to a poor family, dared to make such an attempt,” said local grocer Muhammad Saleem, 36. AFP