LAHORE: In a major breakthrough, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Police raided a house in Okara district and arrested a motorway gang-rape suspect who confessed to his crime before his DNA matched the swab/samples collected from the crime-scene, Dawn learnt on Monday.
Shafqat Ali was arrested following technical and human intelligence that led the department to his whereabouts. Acting on some information, a CTD team questioned several persons from Lahore to Sheikhupura and then in Depalpur of Okara district.
Meanwhile, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan warned Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh against extrajudicial killing of the suspects in the case and snubbed him for his ‘insensitive’ statement about the victim.
Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also announced the arrest in his tweet, saying that Shafqat had been arrested in the gang-rape case.
Main suspect still at large; LHC reprimands apologetic CCPO for his remarks
About the details of the arrest, a senior officer told this correspondent that the CTD carried out an intelligence-based operation (IBO) and arrested Shafqat from his sister’s house in Depalpur late Sunday night. He said the other prime suspect, Abid Malhi, who was still at large, had called Shafqat many times before and after committing the rape.
During interrogation, Shafqat told the detectives that Abid had first raped the woman and then asked him to commit the offence while threatening him that he would shoot him (Shafqat) for not sharing crime or showing sympathies for the victim. As they had just raped the woman, they noticed the personnel of the Dolphin Squad reaching the spot, the official said. As soon as a Dolphin official fired a warning shot into the air, both the suspects left the crime-scene and hid in nearby jungle of Karol Ghati for two hours or so to avoid arrest. Then they left the place and reached Sheikhupura at the home of Abid Malhi at Ghazi Kot, Qila Sattar Shah, in tehsil Ferozewala of Sheikhupura district. Abid had purchased this two-marla house some three years back.
Both Abid and Shafqat turned their mobile phones off. Shafqat left Abid’s house and reached Depalpur where he was employed at a cold storage. As more news of the crime appeared in the media, he preferred to stay away from his workplace and hid himself at the house of his sister who was probably unaware of his involvement in the crime, the officer informed Dawn. Abid also fled his house and went underground to avoid arrest when he came to know about the massive coverage in the media.
Answering a question about the presence of the suspects at the same place where the victim woman and her kids were awaiting help on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway, Shafqat said it was a gang of four hardened criminals, namely Abid Malhi, Ali Sher, Iqbal alias Bala and he himself, who used to commit crime in Sheikhupura and other cities.
“Abid and Ali Sher were arrested by the Factory Area police of Sheikhupura probably on Aug 8 this year when they robbed a citizen while their third accomplice, Shafqat, had fled the scene,” the official said. Of them, Abid managed to secure release on bail from a local court while Sher was still in jail. The fourth accomplice, Iqbal, was living at Karol Ghati (near the gang-rape site), he said, adding that Abid had suggested to them that as they were on the radar of the Sheikhupura police, they should change the area of crime and decided to rob people near Karol Ghati. For this, Abid and Shafqat reached the same place on the day they assaulted the woman.
The officer said that as per the plan, Abid and Shafqat called Iqbal to reach the place but he refused to join them on excuse of some family commitment. As both were looking for their prey, Abid spotted a car with hazard lights on and the woman along with her children in it. They both reached the woman and as Abid was a habitual rapist, he along with Shafqat gang-raped her, the officer said.
The officials of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) also confirmed to Dawn that the DNA of Shafqat matched with that of the victim.
Meanwhile, another suspect, Abbas, the brother-in-law of Waqarul Hassan who courted arrest only a day ago, also surrendered himself before the Lahore police claiming that he was not involved in the crime.
Abbas was using the SIM card issued in Waqar’s name and the police were carrying out raids for his arrest.
Earlier, prime suspect Abid Malhi’s DNA profile had matched with the samples recovered from the victim’s clothes.
Twenty-six teams of various law enforcement agencies are in the field for the arrest of Malhi with no success so far.
Meanwhile, LHC CJ Mohammad Qasim Khan warned CCPO Sheikh against extrajudicial killing in the gang-rape case and expressed serious displeasure over the insensitive statement made by him about the victim woman. He noted the whole cabinet should have apologised while several ministers and special assistants to the prime minister (SAPMs) were found defending the irresponsible statement of the CCPO as if they were his spokespersons.
He observed that the ministers, having no expertise to investigate a crime incident, had been visiting the crime scene only for a photo session and selfies.
Justice Khan was hearing a petition by Advocate Nadeem Sarwar seeking a direction for the government to constitute a judicial commission to probe the gang-rape incident.
He resumed the hearing at 1:30pm when CCPO Sheikh appeared after being summoned on a short notice.
When asked about the investigation in the case, Mr Sheikh narrated the unfortunate incident and the progress made in the investigation. He claimed that there had been lapses on the part of the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and Motorway Police in response to the calls made by the woman. He said an officer of rank of a major from the FWO had attended the call of the woman and dispatched a mobile workshop to her location on the motorway. He said the FWO officer should have alerted the police on 15 owing to the ‘compromised’ security on the road.
The CCPO also revealed before the court that the prime suspect, Abid Malhi, was released in a gang-rape case in 2013, following reconciliation.
CJ Khan also found flaws in the text of a show-cause notice issued to the CCPO by the inspector general of police (IGP) for his objectionable remarks. He observed that the notice did not contain the law or the rules violated by the CCPO. A law officer said the statement of the CCPO fell within the definition of professional misconduct.
Mr Sheikh told the court he had already given an apology for his statement.
The chief justice observed that the people holding high offices should speak carefully and sensibly.
“I personally got into a panic after listening to your careless statement,” he reminded the CCPO.
The LHC CJ observed that the court would exercise restraint in this matter and wait for the outcome of the notice issued to the CCPO.
He adjourned further hearing till Sept 16 (tomorrow) and directed the CCPO to submit a report on the investigation in the gang-rape incident. He also directed the law officer to seek a report from the IGP on the security plan of all the roads in Punjab.
Before rising, the chief justice warned the CCPO against extra judicial killing of any of the suspects in the gang-rape case and ordered him to ensure maximum punishment for them under the law.
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2020