Five held over Pakistani army school bloodbath

Soldiers stand guard as children return to class. Picture: Getty

Soldiers stand guard as children return to class. Picture: Getty

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Afghan security services have arrested five men in connection with the massacre at a military school in Pakistan last month that killed 150 people, mostly children, officials said yesterday.

The men, all foreigners, helped support the 16 December assault by the Taleban at the Army Public School and College in Peshawar, officials said. They were arrested in recent weeks near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.

The Peshawar attack, which saw seven Taleban gunmen in suicide bomb vests slaughter children gathered in the school’s auditorium and corridors, shocked and enraged citizens across Pakistan.

Though the two countries have long been rivals, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has pledged to have closer relations with Pakistan. Within 24 hours of the school attack, Pak­istan’s chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, flew to Kabul to meet Ghani to discuss closer co-operation on combating cross-border terrorism.

Western diplomats and military officials said the level of co-operation is unprecedented. One western diplomat said those arrested by Afghanistan might be used in a prisoner swap deal with Pakistan. Both countries have accused each other of harbouring terrorists who sneak across the shared border to mount attacks.

Pakistan is in the middle of an operation to attack suspected militant hideouts in its­ ­tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said no evidence had yet been found to suggest foreign involvement in the school attack. “Some arrests have been made and we are awaiting positive and concrete details in this regard,” he said in a press conference yesterday.

Meanwhile, an Afghan official said that nine insurgents have been killed during a raid by Afghan security forces backed by local citizens in the country’s north.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the police chief in Kunduz province, said that four insurgents and five local civilians were also wounded.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, hundreds of people in the eastern province of Paktika protested against the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Ghani has strongly condemned the latest caricature on the cover of the new issue as an insult to Islam.

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