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Pakistan police detain suspect in rape, murder of 7-year-old girl

Pakistani residents hold bamboo sticks as they stage a protest against the rape and murder of a girl in Kasur in Punjab province on January 10, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Pakistani authorities have detained a suspect in the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl, Zainab Ansari, which sparked nationwide outrage over allegations of inaction by the government.

Two unnamed police officials told media outlets on Wednesday that the authorities had arrested a man who was being treated as a prime suspect. "Evidence we're getting leads us to believe that he is the man," Reuters quoted a police officer as saying.

Zainab was taken near her home in Kasur on January 4 while her parents were on a pilgrimage. Her uncle reported her missing the next day. Zainab's family said police did not respond after they reported their daughter's disappearance.

Her brutalized corpse was found in a trash pile about 100 meters from the family home five days after her disappearance.

An autopsy confirmed last week that Zainab had been strangled and sodomized. There were torture marks on her face and Zainab's tongue was crushed between her teeth.

Zainab was one of twelve young girls that had been raped in the past twelve months in Kasur, located near the Indian border. At least 11 of them were murdered.

Earlier on Wednesday, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, where Kasur is located, visited the town and held a meeting with officials on an investigation into the murder. Sharif said the police and other law enforcement agencies were close to solving the case, promising a breakthrough within "days or hours."

Sharif has offered a reward of 10 million Pakistani rupees ($90,000) for anyone who provides information about the killer.

Residents and officials have voiced fear that a serial rapist killer might be on the loose.

The brutal killing has shocked the country, with widespread demonstrations in Kasur, Lahore and Karachi. Demonstrators have accused authorities in Punjab of doing too little to protect children. They have also ransacked police offices and buildings. At least two people were killed and several others injured in Kasur last week, when police fired at hundreds of angry protesters who said negligence on the part of the authorities was behind the repeated killings.

Kasur was previously at the center of a child sexual abuse scandal in which a gang of over two dozen men was accused of blackmailing scores of children into making sex videos between 2009 and 2014.

At least 280 children were sexually abused on camera by men who later blackmailed their families, threatening to leak the footage.

Pakistani human rights activists carry placards and banners during a protest against the rape and murder of a child in Karachi on January 11, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The abuse was uncovered in 2015 and multiple suspects were arrested.

According to Sahil, an aid group that works on child protection issues, there were 129 cases recorded in Kasur, including rape and murder from January to June 2017.

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