SARGODHA/Lahore - At least 20 people including four women were callously killed and three injured by the fatal strikes of blunt and sharp weapons early Sunday at a shrine near Sargodha.

Victims were apparently given intoxicants before being slaughtered and some of the bodies were nude.

Police said it had arrested shrine caretaker Abdul Waheed and his two accomplices Zafar Ali and Sanaullah from the scene. And, Waheed had admitted to killing his disciples – six of whom belonged to a single family.

There were suggestions that it could be a sickening act of a psychopath, who, locals and officials said, would use torture on his followers to heal their physical and spiritual ailments. Some thought that rivalry for control of the shrine could be behind this terrorising episode.

But the key accused, a grade-19 retired officer of Election Commission of Pakistan, himself stated to police that he killed the victims because he believed they were out to kill him. Abdul Waheed was caretaker of the shrine since it was built two and a half years ago.

The shrine of Pir Muhammad Ali Gujjar in village 95/NB, on the edge of Sargodha city, is a small yet beautiful complex built in a farmland. Standing out in a green setting, the central mausoleum with a white dome and a beautified entrance looks quite serene and magnificent.

Just yard away, in front of the mausoleum, are hujras – rooms for visitors stay. The murders were carried out in the courtyard of these hujras.

Television footage showed scattered shoes, clothes, sheets and cots in the yard as police vehicles and police commandos surrounded the premises of the shrine.

Shrine custodian Abdul Waheed called on the worshippers to visit the shrine and then attacked them with his accomplices, said Liaqat Ali Chattha, deputy commissioner for the area. "As they kept arriving, they were torturing and murdering them," Chattha told Geo TV.

One of the survivor told police Mr Waheed had called followers into his chamber one by one, and gave them poisoned food. He and his companions then killed them with a dagger and a stick.

The alarm was raised by an injured woman who was among some victims who managed to escape.

Local police then rushed to the shrine and arrested Mr Waheed, along with several others believed to be his accomplices.

Pervaiz Haider, a doctor in a Sargodha hospital, said most of the dead were hit on the back of the neck.

"There are bruises and wounds inflicted by a club and dagger on the bodies of victims," he told Reuters.

"The 50-year-old shrine custodian, Abdul Waheed, has confessed that he killed these people because he feared that they had come to kill him," regional police chief Zulfiqar Hameed told AFP.

Another local government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Waheed had told police that the saint buried at the shrine had been poisoned and he feared that his victims might kill him also.

"The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of shrine," Hameed said, adding that the investigation into the killings near the city of Sargodha was continuing.

Local police station chief Shamshir Joya said the victims, whose clothes were torn and bloodstained, appeared to have been given intoxicants.

"We suspect that the victims had been given some intoxicants before they were murdered, but we will wait for a forensics report to confirm this suspicion," he added.

"The victims were brutally tortured to death and apparently the clothes of some victims were torn off during it," he said.

Local rescue service official Mazhar Shah said Waheed used to meet devotees once or twice a month and used violence to "heal" them.

"Local people say that Waheed used to beat the visitors who came to him for treatment of various physical or spiritual ailments," Shah told reporters in televised comments. "Sometimes he would remove the clothes of his visitors and burn them."

Visiting shrines and offering alms for the poor – and cash to the custodians – remains a very popular custom in the country. Many believe this will help get their prayers answered.

Punjab Minister for Religious Affairs Zaeem Qadri said intelligence agencies along with police and the local government were investigating all aspects of the case.

Qadri said his department managed some 552 shrines in the province, but this one was not registered with it. "Investigators will also look into how this shrine was allowed to be set up on private land," he said.

Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif took strict notice of the lamentable mishap and constituted a fact finding committee comprising RPO Zulfiquar Hameed, minister Zaeem Qadri and others.

The dead included Nusrat Bibi, Rukhsana Bibi, Shazia, Ishfaq, Javeed and Babar (Peer Mehal); Muhammad Hussain – who is son of DSP Ghulam Shabbir- and Khalid (Mianwali); Jameel, Nadeem and Zahid Malang (Islamabad); Mussrat (Laiyyah); Shahid, Saif and Gulzar. The injured were identified as Marrium Bibi, Kishawar Bibi and Kashif.

All dead bodies were handed over to the heirs after autopsy in the morgue of District Headquarter Teaching Hospital.

The chief minister has announced Rs0.5 million each for the families of the deceased as financial assistance and Rs0.2 million for each of the injured.

District Administration and police authorities had sent preliminary report about the incident to the CM while a joint investigation team was formed to thoroughly probe the incident with the assistance of forensic experts.

The officials said they would decide whether or not to file terrorism charges after completing their questioning of the suspects and witnesses.

Police have not yet questioned the wounded and will do so only after receiving doctors' clearance, local police officer Shaukat Manzoor told Al Jazeera.

“Waheed is in custody. We are currently taking down witness statements. We will decide on terrorism charges after that," said Manzoor.

Sources said the main accused of the Sargodha massacre was a resident of Nankana Sahib. He became Mureed (follower) of Peer Muhammad Ali Gujjar about six year ago and after the death of the saint, he was appointed custodian of the shrine.

It was also learnt that Abdul Waheed remained employee of the regional ECP office and after retirement he joined the Astana.