ISLAMABAD: The alleged organiser of the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousafzai was captured during a 2009 military offensive against the militant group but was released after three months, two senior officials told Reuters.
They identified the man who planned the attack on 14-year-old Malala only as Attaullah, and said he was one of the two gunmen who shot her on a school bus this month in Swat.
Believed to be in his 30s, Attaullah is on the run and may have fled to neighbouring Afghanistan, they said. He organized the attack on the orders of one of the Taliban’s most feared commanders, Maulana Fazlullah, officials said.
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 gathered enough evidence to arrest Attaullah after raiding his house in Swat.
If Attaullah is in Afghanistan, finding him could be difficult. Some of the world’s most dangerous militants have operated in the unruly, 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 government forces and has again emerged as a major security threat, security sources have said.
The Taliban, 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 to further their opposition to the education of women.
Police and security officials say dozens of suspects were arrested after the Taliban gunmen shot Malala, including four employees of her school. Two of them were released.
The second senior official said Malala’s father, Ziauddin, had been told about threats to her life after two militants close to Ataullah were interrogated following their arrest in Swat two months ago.
“Ziauddin was properly informed two months ago about serious threats to Malala’s life and was even offered security which he refused,” said a third official, a senior police officer.
The father earlier told Reuters he refused police protection for Malala because he wanted her to live a normal life and that it was not permitted for men to spend time with a young girl in Swat’s conservative society.