Islamabad: The much hyped “Chotoo gang” in Pakistan’s Punjab province has surrendered and its members have been taken into custody, police sources said on Wednesday.

Twenty-four policemen taken hostage by the gang at the start of the Zarb-e-Ahan operation to secure Kacha area in Rajanpur, in southern Punjab, were released, the sources said.

However, while the police confirmed the news, the military top brass remained tight lipped over the matter, Dawn reported citing sources.

According to a source in the police department, Chhotoo had demanded safe passage for himself, his family and some loyal accomplices to proceed to Dubai in return of safe release of the captive policemen, Dawn earlier reported.

A senior police officer said the gang had been using the hostages as a human shield to protect their women and children.

Police launched the Rajanpur offensive after a go-ahead from the Interior Ministry. After seven police officials were killed and 24 others taken hostage, the army announced on April 16 that it would be taking over the operation.

Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa said a cordon was being reinforced and police and Rangers had already been deployed to participate in the operation under the army on an island hideout in Rajanpur.

The “Chhotoo gang”, led by Ghulam Rasool alias Chhotoo, was given a deadline by the army to surrender by Monday, failing which, the army said, it would begin a full-scale operation in the area.

On the various islands in River Indus in Rajanpur and Kacha areas bordering Sindh and Balochistan, the Chhotu gang were in 2002 small-time offenders burgling houses without the modern weapons they possess now.

Gang leader Ghulam Rasool first dabbled into the world of crime to recover some land that he had lost to local goons.

By 2004, Rasool was listed in the list of proclaimed offenders issued by the Punjab Police. In 2005, he kidnapped 12 Chinese engineers from the Indus Highway.

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