As I introduced myself, he gave me the most charming smile from behind the bars. “You look different from all your photographs I have seen.” I said. “Do I really?” the master of disguise, now in a trendy overgrown beard, seemed pleased with his effort.
I was assessing Imran Ali, aged 24, who had abducted Zainab Ansari, aged 7, on January 4, 2018 from near her Aunt’s house. She was heading for a Quran lesson at place nearby. She was raped and murdered and her body was discovered from a rubbish dump five days later. The news of the incident shook the nation and triggered mass protests in Kasur against the police inaction. Two people were killed and several injured as people tried storming the Deputy Commissioner’s Office. Imran Ali was later arrested following a mass DNA profiling after everything else had failed. He confessed to killing Zainab and similarly molesting and killing six other minor girls.
Imran Ali was born and brought up 120 meters away from Zainab’s house. He has six siblings, two brothers and four sisters, who had lived in the same small house.
His father, 52, was a mason and had history of psychotic illness requiring treatment from the local psychiatric facility. He had worked hard, off and on, to support this large family. He was disabled due to a paralysis of the left side of his body a few years ago before dying of associated complications a few months ago. His mother, 46, is a housewife. Imran is a carpenter/mechanic and had worked with his brothers who are also in the building trade. Two of his sisters are married and two are at home; the youngest goes to school.
He went to school at the age of five and left before he was twelve. He changed four schools during this period as he took no interest in studies and never settled. The schools he attended were co-eds — for boys and girls. He did not take much interest in his job either and was frequently told off by his family. What had fascinated him since the age of seven was naqabat (naat/hymn singing). He would frequently go, with a pencil and notebook in hand, searching for the naqeebs (naat/hymn singers) who could teach him the verses and the associated art of singing. He got increasingly frustrated, as a couple of them avoided him with one excuse or the other. He was not alone in pursuing them though, and had no means to pay their service either. This is when he got raped for the first time, in exchange for access to a naqeeb.
Imran’s frustration with his lack of progress in a naqabat career grew over the years along with the sexual abuse he had suffered as its price. After puberty, he becomes a fringe member of this group who now trapped other victims but prostituted themselves if short of cash. They also watched porn together and planned to make videos of their victims and sell those on the Internet as an alternative career
Imran’s frustration with his lack of progress in a naqabat career grew over the years along with the sexual abuse he had suffered as its price. After puberty, he becomes a fringe member of this group who now trapped other victims but prostituted themselves if short of cash. They also watched porn together and planned to make videos of their victims and sell those on the Internet as an alternative career.
Around this time, they made a video of someone having sex with him and started blackmailing him. This, according to him, led to a series of increasingly dangerous sexual dares, which eventually culminated in him and others abusing younger children and causing their deaths in the process. The only odd incident was a case where he persuaded a young divorced woman from Rawalpindi to come and stay with him, as he wanted to marry her. She stayed at his home for a few days but his family did not agree.
Imran Ali was an average Joe in a small town (Kasur) who had gained trust of the local community for being a handyman (with access to their homes) and for being a minor naqeeb in religious gatherings. His mood appeared to be euthymic. He had no psychotic features. His cognitive state was also intact. He did not have any moral urge to do good things, but it seems he acted morally in the context of pursuing his own goals. He helped those searching for Zainab and for other missing girls and even attended their funerals. Despite lack of conscience and empathy for others, psychopaths are great at fooling people, and we get tricked because “God judges people from the inside out; we judge others from the outside in”. Otherwise, we do not have to be psychiatrists to identify the traits of the possible psychopaths among us.
He often smiles, but this is restricted to his mouth. His gaze is intense and his eyes dart around constantly scanning the surroundings. He seems hyper-alert and is quick on his feet. His speech is circumstantial as he gives excessive and unnecessary details. You expect a punchline at the end but it never comes. He lies, exaggerates, and contradicts himself without any regret. He also holds back crucial information in order to gain attention and maintain his power over the situation. Like classic serial killers, he seems to have great grasp of people’s emotions and picks on their vulnerability to induce them into doing things they normally wouldn’t. He uses a combination of compliments and common sense to disarm others.
He seems to have no insight into right and wrong. Despite repeated questions, he did not really appreciate that what he did was unacceptable. He seemed to have no real compassion for his victims or for their relatives. He had no remorse or guilt as he kept blaming others for the situation he is in. Serial killers often try to manipulate situations to pass the blame for their actions, using hot-button issues of the day to try and explain their actions. He never ruminates about what he has done, perhaps because it is often associated with subjective feelings of apprehension or depression. He feels rather grandiose for not being caught except through DNA profiling which he had managed to evade on a few occasions. His rather cheerful self seemed oblivious to where he is at the moment — it is known that unlike other inmates, psychopaths do not get distressed by being in prison.
Imran narrated, rather unemotionally, the chilling account of how he had raped his victims by putting his hand on their noses and mouths. He mentioned how they had become ‘unconscious’ — not conceding that they had actually died in the process
Imran narrated, rather unemotionally, the chilling account of how he had raped his victims by putting his hand on their noses and mouths. He mentioned how they had become “unconscious” – not conceding that they had actually died in the process. He maintained that there were accomplices who had disposed off the unconscious girls later on. He described the whole phenomenon as a ‘thrilling’ experience following on from the ‘dangerous sexual dares’ set up as a challenge by the group. It was made more exciting by the fact that no one could catch him due to his disguises and perfect techniques. This type of serial killer seeks thrills and derives pleasure before killing, seeing people as expendable means to his goal. He never felt afraid he said because others were also involved whom the local police protected.
Imran Ali is a classic psychopath (antisocial personality disorder) and a serial killer (who kill up to four people in a similar manner). Root causes for the both lie in early childhood. Children who show an early lack of fear, apathy towards peers and appear coldhearted in the face of emotions are at the greatest risk.
He has perhaps never experienced any deep joy, real grief or for that matter genuine despair. Research has shown an association between serial killing and childhood sexual abuse. The killers are mostly males coming from dysfunctional families with evidence of voyeurism and sadomasochism from an early age. He also confirms the prevalence of incest among several members of his family.
It is said that most young men often want sex and can’t have it. They also want money and success and never get it. Everyone has unfulfilled ambitions but the psychopaths just go ahead insightlessly and take whatever they want. But the society also has some red lines, and if you cross those, it is a point of no return. Imran Ali crossed those red lines repeatedly.
At a subconscious level, he was perhaps trying to punish his family, the society and the law-enforcing agencies for robbing him of his childhood due to his innocent wish to be a naqeeb. Psychopaths and serial killers may also have some damage to the frontal lobe, hypothalamus and limbic systems of their brains but Fractured Personality Syndrome seems to play a major role, which is explained further by the Social Learning Theories.
Imran Ali is a heartless, manipulative individual with blunted emotions, impulsive inclinations and an inability to experience guilt or remorse. I cannot condone this as a psychiatrist but he would probably be hanged for what he has done. The treatment of such individuals is very difficult anyway as chances of re-offending are very high. Meanwhile, the government remains responsible for protecting children at risk of sexual abuse, living in a society that is increasingly religious and considers sex education a taboo, at the mercy of the Police who are inefficient and frequently complicit.
The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfarz
Published in Daily Times, February 28th 2018.