ITHACA, NY – Pakistani journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi, currently a Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College, holds a rare distinction: he survived an assassination attempt.

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Rumi recently recounted his story in an essay in Aeon magazine. In it, the veteran journalist details the night of the attack and the circumstances that led up to it.

In March of 2014, when the attack happened, Rumi was hosting a current affairs show on one of Pakistan’s major television channels. As he was being driven home, a group of men on motorcycles armed with submachine guns opened fire on his vehicle.

Rumi recounts the moment of the attack in his essay, writing “The flash of the bullets triggered my survival instinct. I leapt forward, huddling on the car’s floor. Later, I saw the bullet hole in its window: it would have been a precise shot had I not got down on the floor.”

Rumi was lucky enough to escape the hail of gunfire unscathed. His driver, unfortunately, was knocked unconscious by a shot to the forehead in the attack and later died. Rumi’s story explains that the assailants might have persisted, had the vehicle not come to rest in a lighted area where they feared they’d be seen.

Later investigations would reveal that the attackers were likely members of Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, a Sunni supremacist group with ties to the Taliban. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks and assassinations in Pakistan.

Journalists under attack

Raza Rumi Ahmad. Picture obtained from his Facebook page.

Rumi says he was targeted for espousing a number unpopular of political views. A list compiled by Shivam Vij in Indian independent news site Scroll.in describes a few of them, including speaking out against persecution of Shia Muslims and other religious groups in Pakistan, opposing the death penalty for blasphemy and opposing other nations peace talks with the Taliban.

The attack on Rumi’s life was just one of many such attacks in Pakistan that year. The International Federation of Journalists labeled Pakistan the most dangerous country for journalists in 2014. If the attack on Rumi had been successful, 15 journalists would’ve been assassinated during the year.

The government was of little help to Rumi, he says, and are often even complicit in the attacks. Feeling that he had no other way to secure his safety, he decided to leave Pakistan.

Rumi now resides in the United States and feels he cannot safely return to his home. “The idea of home has been altered for me,” he writes.

Despite being relatively safe outside of Pakistan, Rumi continues to receive threats from jihadists. His essay mentions that employees of his family, and even relatives of his slain driver have been harassed and threatened by extremists.

Rumi’s essay concludes saying that while his new circumstances have allowed him to slowly heal from the trauma, it a tenuous recovery. “I am not bitter about Pakistan. I am simply petrified. If another human being, on my account, might be hurt in even the most minor way, I would lose the tentative equilibrium I have regained.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.