Custodian kills 20 devotees in Sargodha amid row over shrine custodianship

MAMOSA Report — The custodian of a shrine and two accomplices have been arrested in Sargodha district of Pakistan’s Punjab province for intoxicating and murdering 20 devotees and injuring four others with batons and knives early Sunday, police said.

Officials said the gory incident was the outcome of a dispute over custodianship of the shrine, according to news Agencies reports.

Four women were among those killed in the attack at the shrine, according to Punjab police, who said they had arrested three suspects including the custodian, Dawn reported.

The motive for the slaughter was unclear the police said, but some officials said the chief suspect had mental health problems and had used violence on followers before.

Sargodha shrine killing – Dawn photo

“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,” regional police chief Zulfiqar Hameed told AFP.

“The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of shrine,” he said, adding that the investigation into the killings near the city of Sargodha was continuing.

Local police station chief Shamshir Joya said the victims, whose clothes were torn and bloodstained, appeared to have been given intoxicants.

“We suspect that the victims had been given some intoxicants before they were murdered, but we will wait for a forensics report to confirm this suspicion,” he added.

The shrine was built on a private land in the area some two and a half years ago and remains unregistered.

Punjab Minister for Religious Affairs Zaeem Qadri said intelligence agencies along with police and the local government were investigating all aspects of the case.

Qadri said that his department managed some 552 shrines in the province, but this one was not a registered with it.

“Investigators will also look into how this shrine was allowed to be set up on private land,” he said.

Sargodha Deputy Commissioner (DC) Liaquat Ali Chatta claimed that Waheed, believed to be a resident of Lahore, was a one-time employee of the Election Commission of Pakistan. He took over the shrine after its completion.

The attack was reported by an injured woman who arrived at District Hospital Sargodha, DC Chatta said, adding that she was one of four survivors who managed to flee from the scene of the crime.

Acting on the information, a heavy contingent of police rushed to the shrine and arrested Waheed and his alleged accomplices, he said.

Quoting the survivor, the deputy commissioner alleged that the custodian had contacted devotees via telephone and summoned them to his room one by one. He claimed that the custodian had offered an intoxicating substance to his victims before removing their clothes and stabbing and beating them to death.

“We have launched an investigation into all aspects of this case to ascertain the facts of this gory incident,” senior police officer Bilal Iftikhar said.

Several million Muslims in Pakistan are believed to follow Sufism, which is a mystical branch of Islam that spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 13th century.

Food is customarily distributed at the shrine during the first week of Rajab, a sacred month of the Islamic calendar that began at the end of last month.

There have been cases of people dying during exorcism ceremonies at some shrines across the country, but mass killings are rare, The Express Tribune reported.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif asked the police to submit report on the investigation within 24 hours, a senior government official said.

The chief minister also announced Rs0.5 million will be given in compensation to the families of those who were killed at the shrine, whereas compensation of Rs0.2 million will be given to the injured.

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