Pakistan shrine leader accused of murdering 20 people for 'cult ritual'

The victims were murdered nude, with their bodies bearing multiple blunt weapon marks

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The Independent Online

The custodian of a local shrine and his accomplices in Pakistan murdered 20 devotees after intoxicating them in what officials are calling a cult ritual.

Senior police officer Mohammad Bilal said the shrine custodian in a village near the city of Sargodha, eastern Punjab province, was arrested on Sunday morning along with four others for killing worshippers with batons and knives.

Mr Bilal said another four people remain critically injured in hospital.

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.

Liaquat Ali Chatta, government administrator of the area, said custodian Abdul Waheed and his four alleged accomplices have been arrested and the matter is being investigated.

Mr Chatta said Waheed is a retired government employee and seemed “mentally unstable”.

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

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

The shrine was built about two years ago on the grave of local religious leader Ali Mohammad 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.