Arif Khan, a primary suspect who had been absconding in the Mashal Khan murder case, was arrested from Mardan on Thursday after nearly 10 months, police said.
In a video that surfaced after the Mardan university student was lynched in April 2017, Arif was seen warning a crowd to keep the name of the person who shot Mashal secret. He had also declared that Mashal deserved to be killed over allegations of blasphemy that a joint investigation team later found to be false.
"Whoever takes his [the shooter's] name will commit blasphemy. If you want to file an FIR, my name is Arif," he was heard saying in the video.
Arif, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) tehsil councillor, was arrested by a special operations team of police from Mardan's Ring Road Chamkar area, District Police Officer (DPO) Mian Saeed told DawnNewsTV. Sources said Arif had escaped to Turkey and was arrested once he returned home only recently.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan used the opportunity to praise the "professional and depoliticised" Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police for arresting the suspect, who he acknowledged was a PTI councillor.
"I want to commend the KP police for succeeding in arresting the main accused in the Mashal Khan murder case, Arif Rangi, a PTI councillor," he wrote on Twitter, claiming that the arrest shows his ruling PTI does not politically influence the provincial law enforcement.
Police had been looking for Arif since at least May last year. He was initially thought to have been arrested after police unveiled a list of 49 identified suspects and claimed to have captured 47 of them.
However, police officials subsequently admitted that Arif was yet to be arrested, claiming that another man by the name of Arif Khan ─ an employee of Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in Mardan ─ had been arrested instead.
The suspect is currently being held and interrogated at Mardan police station.
Mashal, a student of mass communication at Mardan's AWKU, was lynched by a mob of students, university staff and outsiders on April 13 last year after he was wrongly alleged to have committed blasphemy.
An Abbottabad anti-terrorism court (ATC) last month sentenced the man who shot Mashal, Imran Ali, death sentence on two counts. Five other accused were given multiple terms of life imprisonment, and 25 were handed down jail sentences. Twenty-six other accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Later in February, the Peshawar High Court suspended the three-year jail terms handed down to 25 convicts and ordered their release on bail.