DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN
The Pakistani military has captured a Taliban commander who once tried to blow up former president Pervez Musharraf, security officials said Tuesday.
Adnan Rashid’s capture came as part of a military offensive that triggered a gunfight Tuesday in North Waziristan, leaving three Pakistani soldiers and six Taliban militants dead.
Rashid was seized Friday in South Waziristan in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghan border. He’s the first well-known Taliban commander arrested since the military launched an offensive in neighboring North Waziristan last month.
He was injured in a shootout at the house where he was living with his family in the Wana area, officials said.
The Pakistan army has said it will drive Taliban insurgents from their regional strongholds. On Tuesday, it indicated it would expand its offensive farther north into the Bajaur tribal region.
The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, said it would continue to ramp up attacks on Pakistani security forces in Bajaur, along the Afghan border.
Former officer, failed suicide bomber
Rashid, believed to be in his mid-30s, is a former Pakistani air force officer. He was jailed after his 2003 attempt to blow up then-President Musharraf in a suicide bombing.
He escaped from jail in 2012 along with nearly 400 other militants. He later claimed responsibility for masterminding another jailbreak that freed 250 prisoners.
Rashid also made a series of YouTube videos and wrote an open letter attempting to justify the assassination attempt on schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.
The Pakistan military's offensive follows NATO allies’ years of pressure on Islamabad to crack down on Taliban havens in North Waziristan.
Since the offensive began a month ago, the military has seized control of Miranshah, the North Waziristan capital. It claims to have killed hundreds of militants.
Tuesday’s gun battle, which killed three Pakistani soldiers and six Taliban militants, took place in the North Waziristan village of Fateh Khel.
The Taliban have killed more than a dozen security troops in Bajaur in the past two months, a military official said.
In a sign that the violence may spread, two senior members of the Pakistani Taliban told Reuters the attacks were a response to the offensive.
The military has decided to launch another, more limited offensive in Bajaur and asked some residents to vacate their houses and villages.
“We decided to take action against the terrorists and the local people sheltering them in Bajaur.
The operation has been planned in five villages along the Afghan border,” a senior government official told Reuters.
That offensive is expected to displace 25,000 people, he said.
More disruption, dislocation
Local villagers complained that they had already been ordered to leave the area in 2008.
“When we returned in 2012, our houses had been flattened but the government didn't give us even a penny to rebuild our destroyed homes,” said Shahkirullah Khan, a resident.
Residents near where Rashid was captured in South Waziristan said leaflets – purportedly from the Taliban – were being circulated, blaming the capture on some local Taliban commanders and promising vengeance.
In recent months, the Pakistani Taliban - always an uneasy alliance of competing militias - has been beset by infighting.