The main suspect of the Lahore-Sialkot motorway gang-rape case, Abid Malhi, was arrested by police on Monday, police officials confirmed.
Abid was arrested from Faisalabad and is being shifted to Lahore, Hasnain Haider, a deputy superintendent (DSP) of the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA), said.
The arrest comes a little over a month after the incident, that had sparked outrage across the country.
The development was confirmed in a tweet by prime minister's special assistant Shahbaz Gill, who said that the suspect will be punished according to law.
Last month, two robbers on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway had gang-raped a mother of two in front of her children in an area falling within the Gujjarpura police jurisdiction. The incident caused a countrywide outpouring of anger and brought sexual violence against women into national focus. Abid and Shafqat Ali alias Bagga — who is on judicial remand— are the main suspects in the case.
Abid, who was leading a gang of four, is also wanted to police in at least 10 other criminal cases registered at various police stations of Punjab.
The news was welcomed by President Arif Alvi, who termed the arrest "a matter of national relief".
"An efficient trial of the accused and the 'severest exemplary' punishment possible under the law must be given to all those found guilty," the president said in a tweet. "Let everyone feel safe in Pakistan, specially our women and children."
Shafqat, whose arrest was announced by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, was sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore a day after he was detained by the police.
Shafqat was arrested after the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Police raided a house in Okara district. He confessed to the crime before his DNA matched the samples collected from the crime scene.
A senior officer had told Dawn that the CTD carried out an intelligence-based operation (IBO) and arrested Shafqat from his sister’s house in Depalpur. He further said that Abid had called Shafqat many times before and after committing the rape.
During interrogation, Shafqat told 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 committing the crime or showing sympathy 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 fled the scene and hid in a 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 Ali 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 in 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 media coverage.
The third suspect, identified as Iqbal alias Bala, was “arrested” on the information provided by Shafqat during interrogation, an official had told Dawn. The official said he was not directly involved in the rape case, but being an active member of the gang he might disclose possible hideouts of Abid.
A fourth suspect, Waqarul Hasan, had surrendered to police while claiming his innocence and requested the authorities to conduct his DNA test to corroborate his claim.
The Lahore police reportedly released relatives and friends of two other suspects — Waqarul Hassan and his brother in-law Abbas — who were detained in connection with the case.