Thursday 22 February 2018

Shrine keeper arrested after 20 tortured to death in 'ritual'

Medical workers remove the bodies from the shrine. Photo: Reuters
Medical workers remove the bodies from the shrine. Photo: Reuters

Mohammad Zubair Khan

A retired Pakistani government official was arrested yesterday on suspicion of beating and stabbing to death 20 people at a local Sufi shrine in what officials described as a cult ritual.

Abdul Waheed, a former deputy director of the Punjab electoral commission, was arrested along with four associates after police found 20 bodies bearing signs of torture near a shrine he manages in the Punjab town of Sarghoda.

The bodies, all of which were naked and bore multiple stab wounds, were found adjacent to a shrine to Muhammad Ali Gujar, a local religious leader.

"The 50-year-old shrine custodian Abdul Waheed has confessed that he killed these people because he feared that they had come to kill him," Zulfiqar Hameed, the regional police chief, said. "The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of the shrine," he said, adding that the investigation was continuing.

The shrine was built about two years ago on the grave of Mr Gujar.

Police said Mr Waheed had told them during questioning that he killed his disciples because he believed they had fatally poisoned Mr Gujar, who had been his religious leader, and feared they were planning to do the same to him.

According to police sources, Mr Waheed claimed to have initially questioned one man who confessed to the plot, and then phoned other victims to summon them to the shrine, where he tortured them to death.

Bilal Iftikhar, a police spokesman, said Mr Waheed drugged his victims before killing them with batons and machetes.

Three people escaped the massacre and are in a critical condition. Police sources said they believed the killings started on Friday night but were not reported until a female survivor arrived at hospital seeking treatment for her wounds.

Liaquat Ali Chatta, a government official, said Mr Waheed appeared to be "mentally unstable" and was allegedly in the practice of "beating and torturing" devotees to "cleanse" them.

Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab law minister, said an initial investigation showed that Mr Waheed had a collection of followers who regularly visited the shrine and were tortured in the name of religious cleansing.

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