At least 20 people, including six members of a family, were drugged and killed with batons and knives at a shrine allegedly by its "mentally ill" custodian and his associates in a village in Pakistan's Punjab province.
Sargodha Deputy Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chatta said that the incident took place at the dargah (shrine) of Muhammad Ali Gujjar in a village in Sargodha district, some 200 km from Lahore, at around midnight yesterday.
The shrine custodian 50-year-old Abdul Waheed, who was apparently suffering from a 'critical mental disorder', used a dagger and sticks to kill his victims, he said, adding Waheed had phoned the victims, telling them to come to the shrine.
Two women and as many men managed to escape, in an injured condition, from the shrine. One of them reported the crime to locals who then informed the police.
The injured have been shifted to hospital where their condition is stated to be critical.
Chatha said it appeared that the caretakers of the dargah had first drugged the visitors, stripped them and then stabbed and clubbed 20 people, including three women, to death.
Citing a Doctor at Sargodha hospital, the Geo TV said that the victims were murdered nude and the bodies bore multiple stab wounds and blunt weapons marks.
Police official Mazhar Shah said that the motive behind the crime has not been ascertained yet but locals have said that from last two years the suspect used to visit the area for 'spiritual sessions' with the disciples.
The shrine was built about two years ago on the grave of local religious leader Ali Mohamamd Gujjar.
People would come to the dargah for "cleansing" their sins and allow the caretakers to beat them with clubs.
“But in this case the visitors were first drugged and then stabbed with daggers and hit with clubs, apparently during the cleansing process," Chatha said.
He said that the prime suspect, a resident of Lahore, is an employee of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Chatta quoted Waheed as saying that he killed his disciples because, according to him, they poisoned his spiritual leader, Ali Muhammad, to death two years ago.
Waheed told the police that had he not killed them, they would have poisoned him too, Geo TV reported.
One of the victims included the son of Waheed's spiritual leader. "Asif Pir Ali was the son of Muhammad Gujjar [the spiritual leader]," said a family member of the deceased.
"We have taken five people, including the caretakers of the dargah - Waheed and Yousuf, into custody for interrogation," Chatha said.
The shrine was cordoned off for a search operation. According to senior police officer Bilal Iftikhar, one injured witness also said there was a clash between two groups of the caretakers of the dargah over its possession.
Twenty people of both groups, including six members of one family, were killed, the police officer said.
"We have launched an investigation into all aspects of this case to ascertain the facts of this gory incident," Iftikhar said.
A heavy contingent of police was deployed at the dargah soon after the incident and a search operation was launched in adjoining areas. An emergency has been declared in hospitals in Sargodha.
Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has summoned a report on the incident from IG Police within 24 hours. He also announced an amount of Rs 500,000 for families of each of the deceased person, while Rs 200,000 for each injured person.