20 killed by shrine custodian in apparent cult ritual in Pakistan

Pakistani volunteers and local residents gather around the bodies of people who were killed in a local shrine, outside the morgue of a hospital in Sarghodha, Pakistan, Sunday, April 2, 2017. AP Photo/M.I. Haq

MULTAN, Pakistan — The custodian of a local shrine and his accomplices murdered 20 devotees after intoxicating them in eastern Punjab province, police said Sunday, in what officials are calling a cult ritual.

Senior police officer Mohammad Bilal said that the shrine custodian in a village near the city of Sargodha, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) north of Multan, was arrested Sunday morning along with four others for killing worshippers with batons and knives. Bilal said another four people remain wounded in critical condition.

A Doctor at Sargodha hospital, told the Geo TV channel, that the victims were murdered nude and the bodies bore multiple stab wounds and blunt weapons marks.

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Liaquat Ali Chatta, government administrator of the area, said the custodian, Abdul Waheed, and his four alleged accomplices have been arrested and the matter is being investigated. Chatta said Waheed is a retired government employee and seemed “mentally unstable.”

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Chatta said the custodian was allegedly in the practice of “beating and torturing” devotees to “cleanse” them. He said Waheed had confessed to the murders.

Rana Sanaullah, the law minister for the Punjab provincial government, said an initial investigation showed that Waheed had a collection of followers who would regularly visit the shrine and face torture in the name of religious cleansing.

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The shrine was built about two years ago on the grave of local religious leader Ali Mohamamd Gujjar. Shamsher Joya, a local police officer, said Waheed would come to the shrine twice a week from Lahore, and his followers would submit to “beating and torturing with a red hot iron rod.”

Police said the victims were killed at a house adjacent to the shrine and their clothing was found burned.