PESHAWAR / WASHINGTON - Parents of the victims of the Peshawar Army Public School (APS) terror attack in 2014 claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) demand to know the whereabouts of Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson of the terror group who allegedly escaped from a prison in Pakistan this week.
“Ehsanullah Ehsan was not an average prisoner. He is a notorious terrorist. He was known worldwide as the spokesperson for the Tehrik-e-Taliban — the same TTP that the army told us took responsibility for the attack,” Fazal Khan, a parent of one of those killed in 2014, told VOA.
Questions for authorities
Officials in Pakistan have neither confirmed nor denied the report of Ehsan’s escape, leaving parents whose children were victims in the attack questioning authorities.
The report of Ehsan’s escape has been troubling for parents like Ahmed Ali, who lost his son in the attack.
“My son Muhammad Uzair Ali was shot 13 times and they slit his throat. Except for his face, his entire body was riddled with bullets,” Ali told VOA.
Ali told VOA that he and his family have been awaiting justice for more than five years.
On December 14, 2014, six armed militants stormed the APS, a military-run school in Peshawar, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. More than 1,000 students, from preschool to high school, were on the campus when the attack began. Militants entered classrooms and auditoriums and opened fire on students and teachers, killing 149 people, of which 132 were children.
Bilal Ahmed Khalil, a survivor of the APS attack, told VOA that he played dead and survived the rampage.
“I was stuck in the classroom. My friends and teacher were shot and killed in front of me. I pretended to be dead as the Taliban walked over me and the dead bodies of my friends on the classroom floor,” said Khalil, who lost two of his classmates in the attack.
In response to the attack, Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister of Pakistan, lifted the moratorium on capital punishment in terrorism-related cases and established a 20-point counterterrorism policy measure called the National Action Plan.
Retaliation for military operations
TTP’s Maulana Fazlullah claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was in retaliation for Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan.
“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females … we want them to feel the same pain,” Fazlullah said in a video message days after the attack.
At the time of the attack, Ehsan was not the spokesperson for TTP. Ehsan left the TTP under the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah because of some differences with the group and joined Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of TPP, to serve as its official spokesperson.
Families of the APS victims still hold Ehsanullah Ehsan responsible and demand that the Pakistani government punish him in a court of law.
“God will punish whoever else was involved in this attack. This is out in the open, it was admitted to, it was confirmed that he [Ehsanullah] was part of it. … How did he escape jail? How did he escape being punished?” Mohammad Amin, a parent of two APS victims, said to VOA.
Ehsanullah Ehsan allegedly surrendered to the Pakistani military in 2017. It was assumed that he was under official custody until an audio message released this week from a Facebook account previously used by him claimed he had escaped from prison. The audio clip that circulated on social media platforms left many Pakistanis questioning the whereabouts of Ehsan.
The clip reportedly said: “My name is Ehsanullah Ehsan. I was affiliated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Jamaatul Ahrar. On the 5th of February, 2017, I surrendered myself to the Pakistani intelligence agencies under an agreement. For three years, I fully kept my end of the deal.
“However, these lying Pakistan intelligence agencies went back on their promise and imprisoned me along with my children. I very patiently spent three years under confinement. However, I was compelled to make a plan to escape. On January 11, 2020, Allah helped me and we escaped from the confinement of Pakistani agencies. … Now, it is important to unveil the doings of the Pakistani military, for which I am an eyewitness. I will let tell the world all the information that I know very soon.”
VOA could not independently confirm the authenticity of the audio message.
'I am in Turkey'
The News International, a Pakistan-based media outlet, claimed to have spoken to Ehsan, saying he confirmed his escape and told media he was in Turkey.
“I am in Turkey at the moment along with my wife, son and daughter. Don’t ask me how I reached here as I can’t tell you right now,” he reportedly said.
The authenticity of the audio clip and Ehsan’s whereabouts have yet to be confirmed by authorities in Pakistan. During a press briefing, VOA asked Pakistan’s Foreign Office about the rumors, to which spokesperson Aisha Siddiqui, responded, “This matter pertains to the Ministry of Interior. I would like to refer you to them.”
VOA’s Rabia Pir and Hashim Ali contributed to this report from Peshawar.