The man who allegedly planned the Peshawar school attack has been killed by security forces, a government official said.
Security troops, acting on intelligence information, conducted a raid in the Bara area late on Christmas Day. It led to a shoot-out with the militant commander known as Saddam and his accomplices, said Shahab Ali Shah, head of police administration in the Khyber tribal region.
Mr Shah said Saddam was killed in the hour-long shootout, while his six accomplices were injured and arrested.
He said Saddam helped plan the Peshawar school assault and was also involved in attacks on health workers giving polio vaccinations in the Peshawar valley.
Mr Shah said: “Commander Saddam was a dreaded terrorist, who was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces in Jamrud town of Khyber tribal region.
He added that Saddam is believed to have facilitated the school attack, although the extent or capacity of his alleged involvement was not yet known.
“Authorities are currently interrogating the injured terrorists,” Mr Shah said.
He described Saddam as an important commander in the Pakistani Taleban, or Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan, and said he had masterminded several bomb attacks.
On 16 December, militants strapped with explosives broke into a military-run school in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and killed 148 people – most of them children.
Meanwhile, a suspected US drone fired missiles at two compounds in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region yesterday, killing at least seven alleged militants, according to reports.
Four intelligence officials said the early morning strikes hit the compounds of the Punjabi Taleban and a group of Uzbek militants in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.
Two missiles struck the compound of the Punjabi Taleban in the village of Kund, killing four militants, the officials said.
They added that the compound was used as a training facility by the group’s commander, Qari Imran, but it was unclear whether he was present at the time of the attack.
Minutes later, another drone-launched missile struck the compound of a group of Uzbek militants in the village of Mangrotai, killing three alleged militants, the officials said.
Drone strikes are unpopular in Pakistan where many consider them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and resent the collateral damage caused to Pakistani civilians. But the US insists these attacks are effective at eliminating militants in areas inaccessible to the Pakistani military.
US officials did not immediately confirm the strikes. However, in recent days, there has been growing indication that the drone campaign along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is accelerating.
On Tuesday, General John Campbell, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Sher Muhammad Karimi, leader of Afghanistan’s army, travelled to Islamabad to meet Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif to discuss better ways to co-ordinate offensive operations against militants.
Over the past week, Pakistani military officials say they have killed more than 150 suspected terrorists. Areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan are home to militants. The authorities have been under pressure to do more to eliminate insurgents who cross into Afghanistan and stage attacks there. Pakistani Taleban are based on both sides of the border.
The government has been at pains in the past week to show it can tackle militancy. After a day-long meeting with the country’s main political parties, prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on Christmas Day military courts would be set up for the speedy trial of suspected terrorists.
Mr Sharif said Pakistan was in an “extraordinary situation” that needed “extraordinary actions”.
A day after the school massacre, the military intensified its offensive in North Waziristan. The prime minister lifted a moratorium on the death penalty. Six militants have already been hanged.
Pakistan’s interior minister has said 500 people are due to be executed in the next few weeks.
One of them is a man who was convicted as a minor in 2004. Shafqat Hussain was 14 when he was allegedly tortured into confessing to murder, and sentenced to death.