20 drugged and killed at Pakistan shrine, 3 suspects arrested

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ISLAMABAD: The custodian of a Pakistani religious shrine and two accomplices have been arrested for intoxicating and murdering 20 devotees with batons and knives early yesterday, police said.

Four women were among those killed in the attack at the Sufi Shrine to Mohammad Ali in Punjab province, according to police, who said they had arrested three suspects, including the custodian.

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

"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 said.

"The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of the shrine," he added, stating 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.

Mr Joya said the shrine was built in the area some 2½ years ago.

Waheed - a one-time employee of the national election commission - took over as custodian after it was completed.

Local rescue service official Mazhar Shah said Waheed used to meet devotees once or twice a month and used violence to "heal" them.

"Local people say that Waheed used to beat the visitors who came to him for treatment of various physical or spiritual ailments," Mr Shah told reporters in televised comments.

"Sometimes he would remove the clothes of his visitors and burn them." - AFP