Motorway rape incident: Man in custody confesses to crime but prime suspect still at large

Motorway rape case: Shafqat identifies another man, Bala Mistri, who planned the robbery

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Sources told Geo News that the sample taken from Shafqat has already matched the one obtained from the rape survivor. Geo News/via

LAHORE: An accomplice of the prime suspect in the motorway gang-rape case has confessed to the sexual assault, police sources informed Geo News on Monday, despite key suspect Abid Ali remaining in the wind.

The sources added that Shafqat Ali, with whom key suspect Abid used to commit crimes, confessed to gang-raping a woman when her car had broken down on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway on Sept 9 even before his DNA test was carried out.

Punjab Police revealed that Shafqat's DNA matches with the samples taken from the scene of the crime. 

Minutes after news broke about Shafqat's arrest, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar confirmed that the man's DNA had matched with the sample obtained from the rape survivor and that he had confessed to the crime.

"Our entire team is constantly trying to arrest the accused Abid Ali, whose arrest is expected soon, God willing," Buzdar said on Twitter.

Shafqat is the second suspected rapist apart from Abid Ali, the sources added, and that Waqarul Hassan Shah and Abbas were not suspects anymore.

They added that Shafqat was a habitual offender and had been involved in crimes in the past as well.

They said Waqar claimed that Abid had links to Shafqat and his brother-in-law, Abbas, the latter of whom has been detained. Shafqat was then arrested from Dipalpur after being traced through his phone SIM card.

The DNA samples obtained from Shafqat were sent to the laboratory for testing.

Shafqat reveals third name in motorway rape case: sources

A third name has come up in the motorway rape case after police interrogated suspect Shafqat, sources told Geo News. 

According to Shafqat, a man named Bala Mistri called the prime suspect Abid and him to Lahore. Shafqat told police that all three gathered in Shahdara where they are Dahi Baray

"All three went to commit the crime but Bala Mistri turned back halfway," Shafqat told police, said sources.

Shafqat also told police that he and Abid had tried to rape a woman in Sheikhupura a month earlier but Punjab Police arrived on the scene to prevent the crime, forcing the two to flee. 

 "We spent a night at Qila Sattar Shah after committing the rape," Shafqat told police, as per sources. "The next day, I went to Dialpur and Abid went to his father at Manga Mandi," he added.

The suspect further told police that he was last in contact with Abid three days ago.  

PFSA system identified Abid as 2013 rapist

According to the reports, Shafqat and Abid were at the Lahore-Sialkot motorway on Sept 9 with an intention to rob any motorist when they saw a stationary white-coloured car on the roadside. The two approached the vehicle, threatened and robbed its occupants, and then gang-raped the woman in front of her children after dragging them to a nearby field.

Police explained that apart from Shafqat's statement, his DNA had to match as well, which is why the samples had been sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA). The arrest was made with use of footprint-tracking as well as DNA samples.

The PFSA had Abid's prior DNA records from 2013, when he had raped a woman and her daughter and was booked alongside four others under Sections 376 and 395. While he had been bailed out at the time, his DNA and fingerprint records were saved in the lab's data bank.

The lab's system identified him as the same rapist from more than seven years ago.

Abid's father, wife, family arrested: Chohan

Abid and Shafqat were accomplices and carried out dacoities. Both lived in the same neighbourhood in Qila Sattar Shah, a town in Sheikhupura's Ferozewala tehsil.

Abid's criminal record existed from earlier but Shafqat's was being searched for, reports said, in order to ascertain whether he had been nominated in any FIRs before or not. Shafqat, however, had never been arrested in the past.

Moreover, there was no criminal record of Waqar, who only named Abid and his brother-in-law, Abbas, during questioning.

Speaking to Geo News, Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz ul Hasan Chohan said Abid's father, wife, and other family members had been arrested and claimed that the key suspect "will be arrested in a few hours".

Chohan added that the two main suspects had stepped out together on the day of the crime and even had food in Shahdara. Abid injured his hand when they broke the driving-side glass of the car, he noted, and that a DNA sample from that blood had been obtained.

Abid had five sims, four of which were registered under his name, the provincial minister said, but he has shut down fifth sim as well.

'Abid also used to use my phone'

Meanwhile, Abbas — Waqar's brother-in-law who has been in police custody as well — said in his statement that he had no connection to Abid Ali.

"Abid came to us and asked for employment," he said. "I employed him and our contact was only work-related."

Like other labourers, "Abid also used to use my phone" and "work with me at the steel factory", he added, noting that he surrendered himself to police and hoped to get justice.

On the other hand, Abbas' father said his son used to work as a contractor in the steel factory and that Abid worked with him there.

"Abid used my son's phone," he explained.

Other detained suspect denies involvement

The Lahore motorway gang-rape case has sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan and sparked major protests, with many demanding capital punishment for the perpetrators and a conversation on sexual abuse being taken up in mainstream debates.

On the other hand, the prime suspect, Abid Ali, remained at large, and police teams were conducting raids at different locations to search for and arrest him.

Waqar, the other man the Punjab government had identified earlier in the case, had surrendered himself on Sunday at Lahore's Model Town police station. He had claimed that his brother-in-law was using the mobile phone that had wrongly implicated him in the crime, adding that he was not involved.

It was Waqar who told police that the prime suspect, Abid, used to commit crimes along with an individual named Shafqat.

Police had earlier dispatched teams to Bahawalnagar and Sheikhupura to arrest Shafqat. Abid's brother-in-law and other relatives had also been arrested, they had added.

Police shared on Monday that further investigations have suggested that Waqarul Hasan may indeed not have been involved, adding that a final decision on the matter will be taken after they receive the DNA report of the suspect.

Chohan compares motorway case with Zainab's

Earlier, when asked about the delay in Abid's arrest, Punjab information minister Chohan compared the case to the 2018 rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab.

“Even three years ago, when the Zainab rape case happened, it took three months to get hold of the culprits although the province had used all of its powers to get hold of the culprits,” he said while speaking to Geo Pakistan.

The minister said Abid had committed rape for the first time in June 2013 and a first information report (FIR) was lodged against him but he was released after some time during Shehbaz Sharif’s government. He also shared that the forensic report had also been finalised months after his release.

He recalled that police had carried out geofencing of the area and were working day and night, with 28 teams on the case. He also shared that the law enforcement agency was able to identify Abid “within 72 hours”.

“Yesterday, Waqarul Hassan surrendered after the police closely tracked him down. The police should be given credit where it is due,” Chohan said.

Speaking of the legislation regarding protection of women and children, the minister said there were a lot of laws for their safety "but they are never implemented”.

“This is my personal opinion — not the government’s stance — but I think the rapists should be punished publicly after fulfilling all legal terms,” said the minister. He added if this does not happen then a speedy investigation and prosecution should be done.

Parents' appeal to authorities

Meanwhile, speaking to Geo News, Waqar's mother said that her son is innocent and that he decided to surrender himself after he got to know of the incident.

"If my son had done something wrong, he wouldn't have surrendered himself," she said. The suspect's mother appealed to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to ensure justice is served in Waqar's case.

"My son is a pious and religious person, his life should be spared," she said, adding: "He runs a motorcycle repairing shop in Qilla Sattar Shah."

"If my son was a culprit, why would he present himself [to the law enforcement agencies]," she asked.

The mother said she had four daughters and two sons and that one of her sons was ill.

Meanwhile, Waqar's father said his son was not a "thief" and "works at a shop".

He said Waqar is "innocent" and appealed to the authorities to release him.

Rs2.5 million reward

On Saturday, CM Buzdar had announced a Rs2.5-million reward for each of the suspects if information leading to their arrest was shared. He said that the identity of those bringing forward any information would be kept confidential.

"We worked day and night and launched a probe using scientific techniques. I personally monitored the progress and directed the completion of the probe expediently," Buzdar had said.

According to the chief minister, seven cases — including two gang-rape cases — were registered against Abid, while two robbery cases were filed against Waqar who was reportedly released 14 days earlier on bail.

Buzdar said the culprits would be given exemplary punishment for the heinous crime.

While briefing the media about how the police identified the suspects, Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani had said: "Geo-fencing of the entire area was carried out, data was taken from the Election Commission of Pakistan, fingerprints were taken from the site, and DNA tests were conducted".

IGP Ghani stated that after the police went through the records they had gathered they got to know that Abid Ali had four SIMs registered in his name that he used on several occasions. All of the SIMs, however, were currently non-functional.

"Ultimately, we tracked down another number — that was not registered to his name — and it proved our suspicions right. Through this number, we were able to reach his partner as well," he said.

"We are 95% sure that [the person we have tracked down] is his partner as his phone signals were traced to the location of the crime [at the time of the incident]," the Punjab police chief added.

The incident

Two robbers had allegedly gang-raped a woman in front of her children when her car broke down on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway on Wednesday night in an area falling within Gujjarpura police station's jurisdiction.

The woman, along with her two children, was driving to Gujranwala when she was forced to stop at around 1:30am at the Gujjarpura section of the motorway after reportedly running out of fuel.

She immediately called a relative and sent him her location. He asked her to also dial the Motorway Police helpline 130 from which she reportedly received no response.

In the meantime, two robbers reportedly approached the car, broke the window, and took the woman and her children to nearby bushes where they allegedly raped her in front of the children.

They also allegedly snatched her purse carrying Rs100,000 in cash, one bracelet, car registration papers, and three ATM cards.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Faraz in Lahore