20 devotees killed by Pak Sufi shrine custodians with knives, batons | world-news | Hindustan Times
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20 devotees killed by Pak Sufi shrine custodians with knives, batons

A Sufi shrine custodian and accomplices have been arrested for murdering 20 people in what was allegedly a cleansing ritual.

world Updated: Apr 02, 2017 23:51 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Volunteers transport the body of a victim murdered at a Sufi shrine on the outskirts of Sargodha District in Punjab province on Sunday.
Volunteers transport the body of a victim murdered at a Sufi shrine on the outskirts of Sargodha District in Punjab province on Sunday.(AFP)

Police in Pakistan’s Punjab province have arrested five suspects after 20 people were killed at the Sufi shrine of Pir Mohammad Ali in Sargodha on Sunday morning.

The suspects are believed to have gone on a killing spree using knives and batons after the custodian of the shrine, Abdul Waheed, ordered them to kill those visiting the shrine, apparently on fears that someone was trying to take over the place.

Police said the custodian did not seem to be in his senses but had confessed to the crime.“The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of shrine,” regional police chief Zulfiqar Hameed said.

Four women were among those killed, according to police.

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

Sufi shrines in Pakistan are a source of revenue for descendants of the saints in whose names they are established.

Rivalries between families for control of these shrines are common, but such level of violence has rarely been seen in the past.

Pakistani relatives wait at a hospital to receive the bodies of victims murdered at a Sufi shrine in Punjab province on Sunday. (AFP)

Liaquat Ali Chatta, Sargodha deputy commissioner, said Waheed is a government employee and seemed “mentally unstable.”

Chatta said the custodian was allegedly in the practice of “beating and torturing” devotees to “cleanse” them.

It appeared that the caretakers of the dargah had first drugged the visitors, stripped them and then stabbed and clubbed them to death, he said.

People would come to the dargah for “cleansing” their sins and allow the caretakers to beat them with clubs.

“But in this case, the visitors were first drugged and then stabbed with daggers and hit with clubs, apparently during the cleansing process,” Chatta said.

A heavy contingent of police was deployed at the dargah soon after the incident and a search operation was launched in adjoining areas. An emergency has been declared in hospitals in Sargodha.

Visiting the shrines and offering alms to the poor – and cash to the custodians – remains very popular in Pakistan, where many believe this will help get their prayers answered.

There have been cases of people dying during exorcism ceremonies at some Sufi shrines across Pakistan, but mass killings are rare.

Scene of crime: Members of the police forensic unit survey the shrine after the attack. (Reuters)

For centuries, Pakistan was a land of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam whose wandering holy men helped spread the religion throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 13th century.

Several million Muslims in Pakistan are still believed to follow Sufism, although it has been overtaken in recent decades by more conservative versions of the faith.

Hardliners such as the Taliban or the Islamic State group have carried out major attacks on Sufi shrines because they consider them heretical. (With inputs from agencies)