Pakistan shrine custodian, aides sent to police on physical remand

Pakistan shrine custodian, aides sent to police on physical remand

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan today sent on physical remand the custodian of a shrine and his two aides who have been charged with murder and terrorism for killing 20 devotees with batons and knives in a remote village in Punjab province.

The trio appeared before the anti-terrorism court which handed them over to the police on remand, Geo TV reported.

Moreover, a joint investigation into the case has started, while food items collected from the site of the incident at the shrine have been sent to the forensic laboratory.

Abdul Waheed, 50, custodian of shrine Ali Muhammad Qalandar in Sargodha district, some 200-km from Lahore, along with his accomplices allegedly used a dagger and sticks to brutally murder worshippers during last Friday and Saturday.

Regional Police Officer (Sargodha) Zulfiqar Hameed said an FIR has been registered against Waheed and his four accomplices under different sections of Pakistan Penal Code and 7-Anti-terrorism Act against Waheed and his accomplices.

Hameed said as none of the victim families was willing to register a case against Waheed the state has become complainant in this case. "Forensic samples of the victims have been sent to a laboratory to examine whether they were drugged before killing," he said.

Sargodha Deputy Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chatha had earlier said that it appeared that the caretakers of the shrine had first drugged the visitors, stripped them and then stabbed and clubbed 20 people, including four women, to death.

Waheed was apparently suffering from a 'critical mental disorder', he said.

Most of his victims were aged between 30s and 40s. They included a business graduate, a police constable and a son of former Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).

Waheed was arrested along with his two accomplices - his driver and guard - during a police raid on the shrine. Another official, Saeed Leghari, said Waheed killed four people on Friday and dumped their bodies open in the backyard. The remaining 16 people were killed on Saturday evening.

"Nineteen victims had head and other injuries in which a blunt weapon is used. One victim's throat was slit that indicated that he might have run to save his life but he was caught," he said.

Waheed served at a senior position in the Election Commission of Pakistan before taking retirement a few years ago in order to focus his 'faith-healing profession'. The shrine was built about two years ago on the grave of local religious leader Ali Mohamamd Gujjar.

In his confessional statement, Waheed told police that he committed no crime. "I have cleansed the sins of my followers and sent them to heaven," said Waheed who resisted his arrest.

Hameed said a row over custodianship of the shrine could be a possible reason behind the gruesome killings. "Initial investigation shows that Waheed was feeling a threat to his position by some of those he allegedly killed," he said, adding the suspect, however, did not admit to this.

"We found all dead bodies naked and in a pool of blood," an eyewitness said.

An injured devotee, Tauqeer, said that all of Waheed's followers willingly underwent "punishment" to wash their sins.

"On the call of my faith healer - Waheed - I went to the shrine after Friday prayers. On the evening, Waheed began 'cleansing' of his followers sins one by one by hitting them with a club. I was the first to undergo the process after taking off my clothes on his order," he said.

"I fainted after Waheed severely hit on my head. I regained consciousness on Saturday morning and found some men lying dead near me. Finding no physical strength to move I remained lying there till police reached there on early Sunday morning and shifted me to hospital," he said.

He further said Waheed burnt the clothes of those whom he considered more sinful before torturing them.

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