Islamabad: Malala attack: Suspect was ‘held’ and freed in 2009
ISLAMABAD: The alleged organiser of the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousufzai was captured during a 2009 military offensive against the extremist group but released after three months, two senior officials said. They identified the man who planned the attack on the 14-year-old girl only as Attaullah, and said he was one of the two gunmen who shot her on a school bus this month in Swat valley. Believed to be in his 30s, Attaullah was on the run and might have fled to neighbouring Afghanistan, they said. He organised the attack on the orders of one of the most feared Taliban ‘commanders’, Maulana Fazlullah, officials said.
Critics say Pakistan’s low conviction rate of militants, even high-profile ones who carried out major attacks, is one reason why extremism has spread in the country.
The two officials said Attaullah was detained by security forces after a 2009 military campaign pushed the Taliban 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. 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 Taliban ‘commander’ in charge in Swat was Fazlullah, who melted away during the crackdown and eventually moved to Afghanistan with some of his fighters. From there, he has orchestrated cross-border raids against Pakistani government forces and has again emerged as a major security threat, security sources have said.