ISLAMABAD – Pakistani police said Saturday they have arrested six men suspected of carrying out a series of high-profile sectarian killings in the eastern city of Lahore as part of the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
The arrests were a rare success for the police in the country’s battle against homegrown terrorism and on Friday they paraded the suspects, whose faces were covered with black cloth, before the media.
“The six-member group arrested, including the ringleader, has confessed to the high-profile killings of doctors, lawyers and religious leaders of the Shia sect,” Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior police official, said on Saturday.
The group — led by Abdul Rauf as a faction of the banned Sunni Muslim terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — has confessed to killing 16 people from the minority Shia sect in Lahore over the last two years, Hameed said.
Pakistan is rife with sectarian clashes, with militant groups linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban often attacking gatherings by Shiites, who constitute some 20 percent of the country’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population.
Hameed said Rauf told investigators that he joined the group after being impressed by its leader, Malik Ishaq.
“Rauf had joined Lashkar-e-Jhangvi after meeting Ishaq and later he formed his own faction after developing differences with the top leadership,” he added.
The group also confessed to an attempted assassination last month of Raza Rumi, a prominent Pakistani television anchor known for his outspoken views against the Taliban. Rumi escaped the attack, however his driver succumbed to his injuries and died on the way to hospital.
In a press statement on Friday, the police said the suspects had confessed to receiving direct instructions from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Ishaq.
Ishaq is known for his anti-Shia views which he expresses openly in public, inciting people to mount attacks on the minority group in Pakistan. He spent 14 years in prison on terrorism and attempted murder charges that were eventually dropped in 2011 due to a lack of evidence. But many believe that the case fell apart because of death threats to judges and potential witnesses.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is regarded as the most extreme Sunni terrorist group in Pakistan and stands accused of killing hundreds of Shiites since its emergence in the 1990s.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks across the country last year.