LAHORE  - In a major breakthrough, Lahore police on Friday said they have smashed a network of militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) by arresting six target killers including two members of its ‘death squad.’ They were responsible for the killing of 18 high-profile personalities including professionals, religious leaders, and activists of different sectarian organizations.

“We have successfully smashed the network of targeted killers (of LeJ) involved in sectarian bloodshed reported in the province during the last couple of years,” Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafique Ahmed told reporters at news conference held at the Police Headquarters Qila Gujjar Singh.

Flanked by DIG (operations) and DIG (Investigations), the Lahore police chief also revealed that the killers carried out the gun attacks on the behest of Malik Ishaq, chieftain of the banned outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Accused of 44 culpable homicide, the authorities had to release Malik Ishaq from prison in 2011 because of lack of evidence after 12 years long imprisonment. Currently, he has been jailed again.

The LeJ men not only targeted and killed the leaders of their opponent sect but they also gunned down the top cleric of their own faction for their vested interest, says the CCPO.

“As per our investigations, the militant leader (Malik Ishaq) motivated his followers to target the leaders of their opponent sect. He will be prosecuted aggressively,” Chaudhry Shafique said confidently when asked whether he would be acquitted this time again.

During preliminary interrogation, the arrested target killers confessed to 18 murders besides several armed robberies. The police identified six killers as Abdul Rauf Gujjar, Sabir Shah, Sheikh Farhan Rafiq, Shafaqat Farooqi, Mohammad Hashim and Salman Pathan. Abdul Rauf is said to be a student of a Madrassa in Badami Bagh.

The group killed various personalities including Maulana Nasir Abbass of Multan, Maulana Shams Ur Rahman Moavia, Shakir Rizvi, Khurram Raza Qadri, Ghulam Raza Jafri, Professor Shabih Ul Hassan, Dr Sagheer Asghar Baloch of Quetta, Ali Hussain Qizalbash and driver of Journalist Raza Rumi. The group carried out preplanned attacks.  “To our information, journalists, security officials, and religious leaders were also included in their hit list,” the police chief said. We will continue fighting criminals and militants without any fear, he added.

Chaudhry Shafique Ahmed said that the supporters and leaders of terrorist factions have to be arrested for peace in the country and for the protection of the life and property of the citizens. He said that the incidents of sectarian strife in Lahore had become a big challenge for the police and the police investigation teams were making their best efforts to track down the criminals. Police teams headed by DIG Investigation and comprising SP CIA Muhammad Umer Virk and others displayed extreme professionalism. After connecting many dots and collecting concrete information, they apprehended six militants of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi involved in the sectarian killings. The same killers had abducted businessman Sohaib Ahmad for two million rupees ransom.  Replying to a question, the CCPO said that during organizational elections, Haroon Bhatti lost his seat against Maulana Shams Ur Rahman. Because of organizational disputes and defeat, he had planned the killing of Punjab President of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Maulana Shams Ur Rahman Moavia and later he targeted anchorperson Raza Roomi.