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ISLAMABAD: The army anno­unced on Friday the arrest of all 10 Taliban terrorists involved in the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai and said they would be tried under anti-terror laws.

“The entire gang involved in the murder attempt of Malala Yousafzai, Kainat and Shazia has been busted. The gang known as ‘Shura’, which was part of the TTP, comprised 10 terrorists and all of them have been arrested,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said at a hurriedly called press conference at the General Headquarters.

The spokesman did not specify when the arrests were made, but a defence source said the accused had been arrested over the past one year. He said the arrest of Malala’s attackers had been made through an intelligence-led joint operation which involved the army’s Swat-based formation, ISI, Military Intelligence and police.

Army says 10 Taliban terrorists were involved in the attack on the teenage activist

Swat police and intelligence sources when separately asked about the timing of the arrests said no-one was recently taken into custody in the Malala case.

Gen Bajwa said that Zafar Iqbal, a furniture shop owner in Swat, was the main accused and led the group. He said Maulvi Fazlullah, who is based in Afghanistan and now heads the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, was the mastermind and directed the attack.

Communication between the ‘Shura group’ and Fazlullah was done through micro SD cards which were transported by ‘couriers’ to avoid interception.

It may be recalled that in October 2012 the then interior minister, Rehman Malik, had claimed that a person by the name of Ataullah Khan was the key suspect and he had fled to Afghanistan. Mr Malik had said that Ataullah’s fiancée and a number of others involved in the attack had been detained by police.

Malala, an advocate for girls’ education, and her friends Kainat and Shazia were attacked on Oct 9, 2012 while they were returning from school. Malala was critically injured in the attack and after receiving initial treatment in the country was sent abroad.

The arrests were made on information provided by Israrullah, one of the alleged shooters, who was the first to be arrested. All 10 accused hail from Malakand.

The European Union immediately welcomed the arrest of Malala’s attackers.

“The arrest of the criminals behind the attack on Malala Yousafzai is welcomed by the EU and shows that impunity is never acceptable,” EU Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark said in a twitter posting. Banned TTP’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, meanwhile, disputed Gen Bajwa’s claim.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, former spokesman for the TTP and who has now joined Jamaatul Ahrar, rejected the ISPR version and said that planning of the attack had been done by local cadres and “leaders were informed later”. Ehsan said three people were involved in the attack, one of whom had been killed.

QUAID RESIDENCY: The army spokesman further said that the militants who had attacked the Quaid-i-Azam’s Ziarat residency were also arrested. “Terrorists involved in the attack on the Quaid-i-Azam Residency, Ziarat, have also been arrested,” Gen Bajwa said.

The residency, where the Quaid-i-Azam spent last days of life, was attacked with the rockets on June 15, 2013 and was badly damaged.

The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2014