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Militants held over Malala attack

Some 10 militants suspected of involvement in an attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai have been arrested, Pakistan's army says.

The teenager won world acclaim after she was shot by the Taliban in the country's north-west.

Army spokesman General Asim Saleem Bajwa said the detained men attacked Ms Yousafzai, then 16, on orders from Mullah Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.

He said the Taliban had tried to kill her over her advocacy for gender equality and education for women.

Ms Yousafzai was shot in the head in October 2012 while returning from school. She was initially treated in Pakistan, but was later flown to a hospital in Britain, where she now lives with her family.

The army is currently waging a major offensive against the extremist group in North Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan that has long been a militant stronghold.

"The entire gang involved in the murder attempt ... has been busted," Mr Bajwa said. He said the "terrorists" were part of Tehrik-e-Taliban, an umbrella group encompassing militant organizations across the tribal areas.

Ms Yousafzai was a teenage activist who had called for expanding girls' education in deeply conservative areas of Pakistan. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack.

She is from the same region that was once home to Fazlullah, who was elevated to his leadership position after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.

Fazlullah has been on the run since 2009, when Pakistan launched a major offensive in the northwestern Swat Valley to eliminate militants who were trying to overthrow the government and impose a harsh version of Islamic law.

Pakistan believes Fazlullah is hiding in Afghanistan, and Mr Bajwa said Islamabad had raised the issue with the Afghan government. Both countries have long accused each other of ignoring militants who launch cross-border attacks from their territory.

"We will continue our efforts until (Fazlullah) is arrested or killed," Mr Bajwa said.

He said security agencies detained all 10 men in a coordinated operation acting on information from one of the members of the cell. He said the head of the cell had also been arrested.

"The group acted upon the instructions of Mullah Fazlullah who, while based in Kunar, Afghanistan, passed instructions through his two associates," he said.

He added that it was a "known fact" that Fazlullah and other "terrorists" are hiding in Afghanistan.

Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, said: "This is good news for our family and, most importantly, for the people of Pakistan and the civilized world.

"This first step of apprehending Malala's attackers signifies the beginning of real hope for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by terrorism."


From Belfast Telegraph