PESHAWAR - Police in northwest Pakistan have made a string of arrests as they search for the killer of a two-year-old girl whose rape and murder have drawn comparisons to an infamous 2018 killing that sparked riots.

The girl, Zainab, disappeared Tuesday while playing outside her village home in Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Her body was discovered a day later, prompting a large-scale manhunt that by Saturday had led to the arrests of at least 17 men, district police chief Muhammad Shoaib told a foreign news agency. Additionally, police took DNA samples from about 400 people, he said.

"Initial medical reports have confirmed the minor girl was raped before murder," Shoaib said. The incident was reminiscent of an early 2018 case in which a six-year old girl -- also called Zainab -- was raped and murdered in the eastern city of Kasur, in Punjab province. 

The killing sparked outrage across Pakistan, with violence erupting in Kasur as thousands swarmed police stations and set fire to politicians' homes, while Pakistanis across the country took to social media demanding action. Her killer was hanged later that year. This week's case has led to growing outrage on social media, with #JusticeforZainab and #AnotherZainab circulating widely on Pakistani Twitter.

Meanwhile, one of the suspects arrested for raping and murdering the 2.year-old girl in Charsadda has confessed to the crime, police sources confirmed on Saturday. According to the sources, the suspect is presently in police custody and had 'confessed' to the crime during interrogation.

Police said they interrogated more than 300 people in the case, after which all but 15 suspects were released. One of those 15 suspects has now allegedly confessed to the crime. Police further revealed that a murder weapon was also recovered from the suspect and that the crime scene location was identified. 

Upon the identification of the accused, the police also recovered the girl's shoes from the fields. According to the police, the suspect said that he had abducted the girl from Sheikh Kali and murdered her after raping her. The police further said that the accused is 40-years-old and belongs to the same village as the girl. 

The child was abducted in Charsadda on October 6 and was killed after being raped. Her body had been recovered from a field the next day.