Motorway rape: Key suspect’s wife says she is unaware of his whereabouts

Law enforcement agencies have recorded the initial statement of the wife of the key suspect in the motorway gang-rape case, Abid Malhi, officials said on Thursday. She was taken into custody on Wednesday night.

Hasnain Haider, a deputy superintendent (DSP) of the Crime Investigation Agency’s (CIA), said that Abid Malhi’s wife was arrested from the house of the suspect’s parents.

In her initial statement, she said that she was unaware of Abid’s whereabouts who — according to her — escaped when law enforcement officials conducted a raid. After Abid escaped, his wife came to Manga Mandi in Lahore.

She further said that she has not been in contact with Abid, who continues to evade arrest.

DSP Haider said that law enforcement officials were interrogating every person taken into custody so far but are yet to trace Abid’s location.

Last week, 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 in jail — are the main suspects in the case.

Yesterday, Inspector General of Punjab Police Inam Ghani said some possible hideouts of Abid had been identified by law-enforcing agencies that were getting closer to the most-wanted criminal. A Punjab police team had conducted a raid on a “possible hideout” of the suspect at Sheikhupura to arrest him, but to no avail.

An official privy to the development said the police authorities were focusing on some cities, including Lahore, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad etc, where the suspect could be hiding to evade arrest.

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

Subsequent arrests

Shafqat, whose arrest was announced by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on Monday, was sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore earlier this week.

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, Dawn learnt on Monday.

A senior officer told Dawn 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 Ali, who was still at large, 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 on Sunday 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.

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