LAHORE - The Punjab government on Wednesday constituted a high-powered joint investigation team (JIT) to probe into the abductions and killings of four children in district Kasur.

According to provincial home department, the five-member team comprises representatives of the counterterrorism department and Intelligence Bureau in addition to police investigators. The JIT was constituted by provincial authorities “on the request of the” provincial police officer.  Three police officers including DPO Kasur, DSP and SHO were suspended over criminal negligence. The action was taken after PM took notice of the incident.

These horrific killings not only sparked outrage across the country but also brought Kasur district in the limelight again with regard to incidents of child sexual abuse and murders.

One of the victims was buried in the local graveyard amid tears and screaming late Tuesday. Hundreds of locals joined the funeral prayers in the remote village and condemned the killings. Additional police are deployed in the entire locality to keep the situation under control amid rising anger from local population.

Initial police investigations and autopsy reports of three of the four victims confirmed that they were strangled after sexual assault. All the four boys, as young as seven, were abducted from the Chunian city police precincts during the last two months.

DPO Kasur, DSP, SHO suspended

The local police registered four separate FIRs against unidentified kidnappers on June 10, August 15, August 18, and September 16. But, the police investigators failed to trace whereabouts of the abducted children.

On Tuesday, some villagers and local police discovered bodies of three of the four victims from a deserted place located in limits of the Chunian city police. Investigators say two of the three dead bodies were almost decomposed. The third victim was identified by police as seven-year-old Faizan, who was kidnapped from the same locality a day earlier. The remains and the body were sent to the morgue for autopsy. Forensic experts also visited the crime scene to collect evidence.

An official on Wednesday night told The Nation that the joint investigation team had launched the probe to track down killers. “We believe a serial killer is behind this crime. If you look at the modus operandi and time period (From June 10 to September 16), it seemed a serial killer is on the loose in the locality. A major hunt is underway,” the official said, requesting his name not be mentioned.

As per notification issued by the home department, Kasur district police officer will be head of the JIT. The JIT will consist of SP Investigation Kasur, SP (Investigation) of the Provincial Investigation Branch, representatives of intelligence bureau and counter-terrorism department.

Police said three of the four children who went missing under mysterious circumstances from Chunian were recovered dead early Tuesday. The mutilated bodies were lying next to each other in the bushes at a deserted place in Tehsil Chunian as police reached there.

The children, aged 7, 8, 10, and 12, went missing under mysterious circumstances from Chunian during the last couple of months. Some passersby on Tuesday morning spotted bodies in the bushes and alerted the local police. The bodies were shifted to Chunian Tehsil Headquarters Hospital for autopsy.

Meanwhile, provincial ministers Hashim Dogar and Sardar Asif Nakai visited residences of the bereaved families in Chunian and expressed deep sense of sorrow and grief. They also assured the families of justice on behalf of the chief minister.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also directed Law Minister Raja Muhammad Basharat and IGP to reach Chunian city to visit the crime scene and to console the bereaved family. The law minister and IGP should personally monitor the investigations, the CM said. He also directed the cabinet committee on law and order to reach Chunian and made it clear that such horrific incidents were not acceptable. “The killers will not escape from the exemplary punishment,” he pledged. 

Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar also said that he had deeply been saddened over the murder of innocent children in Chunian. It is the responsibility of the government to provide justice to victim families and this responsibility would be fulfilled at every cost.

He said the police were directed to arrest criminals as soon as possible, adding that this case would be brought to its logical end. All the demands of justice would be fulfilled by the government and justice will be ensured. “Provision of timely justice to the affected families is my responsibility and the dreadful criminals will not escape a deterrent punishment,” the CM said. “The criminals are not humans but savage beasts and a burden on land. Everyone is saddened and the government is siding with the bereaved families.”

In 2015, the country’s biggest child abuse scandal had surfaced in the same district Kasur, involving criminal gangs producing and selling illicit videos of child sexual abuse in Ganda Singh Wala area of Kasur in Punjab province. The police investigations into the massive child sexual abuse scandal had also revealed that around 400 videos were made of 280 minor victims of sexual abuse by an organised gang of over 25 criminals.

A man convicted of raping and murdering at least five children in Kasur district was hanged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail in October. Twenty-five-year-old Imran Ali was executed in presence of Muhammad Amin Ansari, father of seven-year-old Zainab, one of the victims found murdered after being raped in Kasur early last year.