Pakistani police arrest aunt in family poisoning case

BASTI LASHARI, Pakistan — Pakistani police said Wednesday they arrested a woman for allegedly plotting with her newly married niece to poison the young woman's husband with tainted milk that would eventually kill him and 17 other relatives in a remote village.

Investigators believe the boyfriend of 21-year-old newlywed Aasia Bibi incited her to kill her husband, Mohammad Amjad, by poisoning his milk with rat poison because she was not happy in her arranged marriage. Amjad was her cousin.

Local police chief Zulfiqar Ali said Amjad did not drink the milk Bibi prepared the night of Oct. 24 but it was later found by his mother, 52-year-old Janat Bibi, who unwittingly used the tainted milk to make a traditional yogurt drink the following day.

The yogurt concoction was served to 27 members of the extended family, including Amjad, who along with 17 others subsequently died at a district hospital. Eight children aged 7 to 12 were among the dead.

Ali said the deaths quickly drew the attention of police, who quietly began an investigation and quickly exposed a plot involving Aasia Bibi, her boyfriend Shahid Lashari and her aunt, 49-year-old Zarina Begum.

Ali said Bibi and her boyfriend were arrested and jailed pending trial after they confessed to their involvement in the poisoning

Among the dead were Amjad's two brothers, his three sisters-in-law and some distant relatives.

"The family of Amjad did not contact police after this tragic incident but we took initiative and launched a probe into the matter when bodies started coming to the village from the hospital," Ali said.

He said Bibi was among those who did not drink the traditional Lassi, which is made with water and yogurt.

"Her husband was in a critical condition at a hospital and she looked as if nothing had happened and she was cool and calm at her home and it raised suspicions," he said.

Ali said police first arrested Lashari and he quickly confessed to his role in supplying the rat poison to his girlfriend. He said Shahid also told officers that Bibi's aunt, Zareena Begum, used to arrange for the couple to meet at her home and she was aware of the plot to kill Amjad.

Ali said before detaining Bibi, police collected her cell phone data enabling investigators to surmise that she was in constant contact with Shahid after poisoning her husband's milk.

Ali said Bibi confessed to her role in the killings upon seeing Shahid in hand-cuffs at a police station.

Another senior police officer, Sohail Habib Tajak, said Bibi was unhappy over her forced marriage and that she had warned her parents that she was capable of going to any length to get rid of her husband.

Sitting at her mud-brick home in this remote island village in the Indus river about 450 kilometers (270 miles) south of Multan in central Pakistan, Bibi's mother Zakia Begum sobbed Tuesday night, saying she repents for forcing her daughter to marry a man she did not like.

"I feel guilty and I think we should have not forced our daughter to marry Amjad as she did not like him," she told The Associated Press.

Begum urged other parents to give their daughters the right to marry the person of their choice.

Zohra Yousaf, a top human rights activist based in Karachi, said Bibi is among countless women who are forced by their parents to marry against their wishes but that it is rare for a wife to kill her husband.

She said Bibi's actions reveal that she suffers from depression and anxiety.

Many parents in Pakistan arrange marriages for their daughters against their will and nearly 1,000 Pakistani women are killed by close relatives each year in so-called "honor killings" for marrying against the consent of their family or attempting to flee the unions.

___

Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this story from Islamabad.

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