Pakistan: Freed militant organised Malala ‘hit’
The supposed organiser of the Taleban shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl was captured during a 2009 military offensive but released after three months.
Pakistani officials have identified the man who planned the attack on Malala Yousufzai, 14, only as Attaullah, and said he was one of the two gunmen who shot her on a school bus this month in the Swat Valley, north-west of Islamabad.
Believed to be in his 30s, Attaullah is on the run and may have fled to neighbouring Afghanistan, they said. He organised the attack on the orders of one of the Taleban’s most feared commanders, Maulana Fazlullah, officials said.
Critics claim Pakistan’s low conviction rate of militants, even high-profile ones who carried out major attacks, is one reason why extremism has spread.
The attack on Malala, a blogger on the BBC’s Urdu service and an advocate of education for girls, has drawn widespread condemnation and raised fresh questions about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting militancy in the nuclear-armed country.
Doctors treating her in the UK have said she has every chance of making a “good recovery” after being shot in the head.
The Taleban have said they attacked her because she spoke out against the group and praised US president Barack Obama.
The two officials said Attaullah was detained by security forces after a 2009 Pakistani military campaign pushed the Taleban out of the Swat Valley.
“He spent three months in the custody of security forces but was freed after no evidence [of wrongdoing] was found,” one official said.
The second source, a senior security official, said authorities had now gathered enough evidence to arrest Attaullah after raiding his house in the Swat Valley, a former tourist attraction. If Attaullah is in Afghanistan, finding him could be difficult. Some of the world’s most dangerous militants have operated in the unruly, ethnic Pashtun border area for years, a forbidding area hard for security forces to reach.
The officials said Pakistani security forces were trying other ways to bring him to justice.
“His mother and two brothers were taken into custody to force him to surrender,” said the second senior official.
“Also two other close relatives of Attaullah have been taken into custody because we heard he spent the night in their house after his escape from Swat.”
The second official said Attaullah was not a hardcore militant, only a sympathiser when he was arrested in 2009.
The Taleban commander in charge in Swat was Fazlullah, who melted away during the crackdown and eventually moved to Afghanistan.
The Taleban, fighting to topple the government and impose a radical theocracy, have blown up hundreds of girls schools in recent years in Swat and other areas in opposition to women’s education.
While many Pakistanis were outraged by the attack on Yousufzai, some leaders of religious parties have described the assault as an American conspiracy designed to trigger a military offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region, hundreds of miles to the south-west of Swat.
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