Custodian charged with murdering 20 people at Pakistan shrine

2017-04-03 12:45


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Islamabad - The custodian of a Pakistani religious shrine has been charged with murder and terrorism, police said on Monday, after allegedly torturing and killing 20 worshippers with knives and clubs.

Two others were also charged in the slaughter on Sunday at the Sufi shrine of Mohammad Ali in Punjab province, local police official Nusrat Ali said, adding the trio "will be presented at a local court today" for a hearing.

The victims were apparently given intoxicants before the gruesome killings, and some of the bodies were stripped nude.

The custodian, 50-year-old Abdul Waheed, told police he killed the worshippers because he thought they might kill him one day, Arshad Abbas, an investigator in the case, told AFP.

Some officials have said Waheed had mental health problems and had used violence on followers before.

Sufis believe in saints to intercede for them directly with God. They have no hierarchy or organisation, instead seeking spiritual communion through music and dance at the shrines of the saints.

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

But visits to shrines and offers of alms for the poor - and cash to custodians - remains a very popular custom. Many believe this will help get their prayers answered.

Hardliners such as the Taliban or the Islamic State group have carried out major attacks on Sufi shrines because they consider them heretical.

In February 90 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, when a suicide bomber blew himself up among devotees at a Sufi shrine in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Shrines are soft targets for attack. Often they bring together hundreds of people made ecstatic by drumming and by hashish, with little security.
In remote and rural areas they are far from medical aid.

Devotees are often impoverished and women and children are usually in attendance for the dancing and music.

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