PAKISTAN — Pakistani authorities Sunday released a sketch of a man they believe picked up 7-year-old Zainab Ansari on the day she went missing.
The man was seen outside her home in Kasur on January 4, according to the Joint Investigation Team’s office in Lahore.
Investigators believe a serial killer is responsible for Zainab’s attack as well as attacks on other girls, Malik Ahmad Khan, a Punjab government spokesman said Friday.
Zainab’s rape and murder have sparked outrage across the country, with demonstrators accusing authorities in Punjab province of doing too little to protect children.
“For the last two years, we are living in fear. Parents are scared to send their kids outside,” Zainab’s father, Muhammad Amin Ansari, told reporters last week.
Previously, officials said Zainab was the 12th victim in the eastern Pakistani city located along the Indian border. Eleven of the girls were slain, the officials initially said.
But on Sunday, Khan said Zainab may be the serial killer’s ninth victim since 2016. Authorities are awaiting DNA results to confirm, Khan said.
All nine victims were raped, and eight of them were killed, he said. The lone surviving victim remains in the hospital, he said. The bodies of the other eight were all found in the city of Kasur.
In roughly the same time frame that the girls were killed, three boys were also raped and murdered in Kasur district, Khan said.
Those cases are not connected to each other or to the suspected serial killer, he said.
Four people have been caught in connection with the previous cases and several suspects are in police custody, Khan said last week, declining to reveal their identities.
DNA test results match in six cases, he said.
Zainab was taken from near her home in Kasur on January 4 while her parents were in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, CNN’s Pakistani affiliate Geo News reported. Her uncle reported her missing the next day, regional police told CNN.
Her body was later found in a garbage pile about 100 meters from her home, Kasur regional police officer Muhammad Kausar Zulfiqar said.
Friday demonstrations in Kasur remained peaceful. The authorities deployed troops in the town after earlier protests turned violent.
Rallies have also been held in Lahore. Elsewhere in Pakistan, people took to social media to voice their anger over Zainab’s death.
The provincial government on Thursday removed the head of the unit that was investigating the deadly assault on Zainab, replacing him with another police officer.
An autopsy confirms Zainab was strangled and sodomized, the medical officer who carried out the examination, Dr. Quratulain Atique, said last week.
There were torture marks on her face and Zainab’s tongue was crushed between her teeth, the doctor said.
Kasur district was previously at the center of a child sexual abuse scandal in which a gang of up to 25 men was accused of blackmailing scores of children into making sex videos between 2009 and 2014. The abuse was uncovered in 2015, and multiple suspects were arrested.