ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A prominent Pakistani Muslim spiritual leader known as the “father of the Taliban” was killed at home Friday evening in a knife attack, officials said, further roiling the country’s combustible religious tensions.
The leader, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, 81, had an overarching influence over the Taliban movement in neighboring Afghanistan and within Pakistan and led his own faction of a religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
“He has been stabbed to death,” said Fawad Chaudhry, the country’s information minister.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the circumstances of the killing were unusual. Mr. Haq was inside his home in the city of Rawalpindi adjacent to Islamabad when he was stabbed by an unknown assailant.
The killing jolted Pakistan just as the government is grappling with protests by religious hard-liners after the country’s Supreme Court acquitted a Pakistani Christian woman on charges of blasphemy, a capital crime here.
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, who was visiting China at the time, strongly condemned the killing, saying his country was now “bereft of a great religious scholar and renowned political leader.” He ordered an immediate inquiry.
Mr. Haq ran a seminary, Darul Uloom Haqqania, in the town of Akora Khattak in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhthunkhwa province. Many Taliban leaders were graduates of the seminary, including the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar.
The killed leader’s students had always hailed him as the “father of the Taliban.” Mr. Haq took pride in the title and was quoted as saying that in local tradition, a teacher is like a father, a spiritual leader.
Last month, an Afghan delegation met with Mr. Haq and asked him to play a mediating role in peace talks with the Taliban. Mr. Haq agreed to play a part but accused the United States and other international powers of obstructing peace efforts in Afghanistan.