Key suspect in Motorway case still at large as gang member held

Published September 16, 2020
Police escort Shafqat Ali (face covered) as he leaves a court.
Police escort Shafqat Ali (face covered) as he leaves a court.

LAHORE: While the prime suspect of the gang-rape on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway remains at large, police arrested a ‘third suspect’ on Tuesday when an anti-terrorism court sent another member of the gang to jail on judicial remand for 14 days.

Also at a briefing on law and order situation in the Punjab province, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the police chief to take the Motorway gang-rape case to its logical conclusion at the earliest and ensure maximum punishment for the culprits under the law.

A senior police official privy to the development told Dawn that the third suspect, identified as Iqbal alias Bala, was “arrested” on the information provided by co-suspect Shafqat Ali during interrogation. The official said he was not directly involved in the rape case, being an active member of the gang he might disclose possible hideouts of the key suspect in the case and gang leader, Abid Malhi.

Abid Malhi, who was leading the gang of four, was also wanted to police in at least 10 other criminal cases registered at various police stations of Punjab.

Earlier on Sunday, suspect Waqarul Hasan had surrendered to police while claiming his innocence and requested the authorities to conduct his DNA test to corroborate his claim.

On September 9, the woman along with her children was waiting for help on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway after her car stopped due to fuel shortage or some fault when she was dragged out of the car at gunpoint and gang-raped in Gujjarpura area.

Police sources said that when the Dolphin Squad of police, which had responded first to the emergency call made by the victim from the motorway, had fired warning shots in the air, the suspects were present at the crime-scene. However, a police official was of the opinion that the criminals fled to the nearby forests of Karol Ghatti on hearing the gunshots, which was a ‘blunder’ on part of the Dolphin Squad personnel who also failed to seek reinforcement to chase them.

The sources said the police initially handled the case as a routine matter, providing an opportunity to the hardened criminals to escape from the area.

A senior police officer privy to the information told Dawn multiple teams were working to locate Abid Malhi with no success so far. He said his last location traced from the calls he made after committing the crime was Ghazi Kot, Sheikhupura.

When a police team raided his house, he had already left it. Police teams took into custody all his family members, including his wife, father, brothers and a minor daughter, he disclosed.

However, the minor was handed over to the Child Protection Bureau, Punjab, the official said.

In reply to a question, he said the police investigators also questioned his relatives, friends and those who remained in contact with him. So far, he had not made any call to his contacts, the police official said while refusing to confirm the veracity of the reports that he had fled to Kacha areas of Rajanpur.

Co-suspect sent to jail

Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism court sent the co-suspect in the motorway gang-rape case, Shafqat, to judicial lockup for 14 days with a directive to the jail authorities to hold his identification parade under special arrangements.

The Gujjarpura police brought Shafqat alias Bagga with muffled face to the ATC in an armoured personnel vehicle amid tight security.

The investigating officer submitted an initial report to the court and said the suspect was not nominated in the FIR. However, he said the mobile phone and the SIM card used by the suspect at the time of the occurrence of the crime had been seized. He said the suspect was arrested on suspicion and later his swabs matched with the samples recovered from the crime-scene. The suspect also confessed to committing the rape, the investigating officer informed the ATC.

He asked the court to allow shifting of the suspect to judicial lockup for an identification parade.

Presiding Officer Arshad Hussain Bhutta allowed the request and directed the IO to conclude the identification parade as early as possible. The judge also ordered the jail authorities to make special arrangements so the identity of the suspect could not be disclosed to other inmates of the prison as well as private persons.

He directed the police to produce the suspect again on Sept 29.

During the proceedings, when the judge asked the suspect if he wanted to say something. The suspect said: “Please be kind to me and free me.” The judge said he would be acquitted if found innocent.

Earlier, the police produced the suspect before a sessions court at the judicial complex due to unavailability of the judge at the ATC.

However, the sessions judge refused to hear the remand proceedings as offence of Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 had been included in the FIR. Later, the police produced the suspect before the ATC. The FIR registered with the Gujjarpura police also carries offences under Sections 376, 392 and 427 of Pakistan Penal Code in addition to Section 7 of the ATA.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2020

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