Two convicted militants executed as Pakistan strikes back after school massacre

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PESHAWAR: Pakistan hung two convicted militants in the first executions in six years and security forces killed more than 50 suspected militants Friday as the country’s leaders vowed decisive action in the wake of a Taliban school massacre that left 149 people dead.

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The bloody rampage in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday brought international condemnation and promises of swift, decisive action against militants from Pakistan’s political and military leaders.

Pakistan’s de facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz told Agence France-Presse the attack was his country’s own “mini 9/11” and a game changer in its fight against terror.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif relinquished the six-year ban on the death penalty in terror-related cases two days after the school attack.

Two militants convicted of separate terrorism offences were the first to face the noose at a jail in central Punjab province, the province’s home minister, Shuja Khanzada, told Agence France-Presse.

Aqil, who uses the name Doctor Usman, was convicted for an attack on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 and Arshad Mehmood was convicted for his involvement in a 2003 assassination attempt on former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Officials said there would be up to ten more executions in the coming days: six in Punjab province and four in southern Sindh province.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, with more than 500 of them convicted on terror-related charges, according to the government.

The United Nations called for Pakistan to reconsider executing terror suspects, saying that “the death penalty has no measurable deterrent effect on levels of insurgent and terrorist violence” and “may even be counter-productive”.

“We urge the Government not to succumb to wide-spread calls for revenge,” said UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville.

On Friday the military also intensified its operations against militants in the country’s lawless tribal areas.

An ambush by security forces in the northwest left at least 32 militants dead, the military said, to add to 27 killed in air strikes and ground operations on Thursday.

In a separate operation Friday, 18 more militants were killed in Khyber, the military said.

The army has been waging a major offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in the restive tribal areas on the Afghan border for the last six months.

But a series of fresh strikes after the Peshawar attack, which wrought devastation at an army-run school, suggest the military is stepping up its campaign.

As the Peshawar tragedy unfolded, army chief General Raheel Sharif said the attack had renewed the forces’ determination to push for the militants’ “final elimination”.

In the southern city of Karachi on Friday, a suspected local Taliban commander and three cadres were also killed during a raid by government paramilitary Rangers personnel.

“The terrorists threw hand grenades and opened fire on Rangers as they cordoned off their hideout in Musharraf colony during a pre-dawn raid,” Rizvi told Agence France-Presse.

But the head of the hardline Islamabad Red Mosque slammed the army operation in North Waziristan as “un-Islamic” and said the TTP slaughter in Peshawar was understandable.

“O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction,” Maulana Abdul Aziz told worshippers.

Around 250 people protested outside the Red Mosque in the evening, denouncing hardliners like Abdul Aziz as Taliban sympathisers. Later, they staged a sit-in protest outside a local police station demanding a case against the cleric for supporting the Islamic State (IS) and for hate speech.

The death toll from Tuesday’s attack rose to 149 on Friday as a critically wounded student succumbed to his injuries overnight in hospital, security officials said.

The atrocity was already the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan’s troubled history, surpassing the 139 killed in bomb blasts targeting former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Aziz, the prime minister’s foreign affairs and national security advisor, told Agence France-Presse the assault was a “game changer”.

“This has shaken the entire Pakistani society to the core, and in many ways it’s a threshold in our strategy for countering terrorism,” he said.

“Just like 9/11 changed the US and the world forever, this 16/12 is kind of our mini 9/11.”

Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game with militant groups, supporting those it thinks it can use for its own strategic ends.

But Aziz said that way of thinking was at an end after Tuesday, when heavily-armed fighters went from room to room at the school, gunning down children.

AFP

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