Man behind Malala attack held in 2009, released

The alleged organizer of the Taliban shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl was captured during a 2009 military offensive against the hardline Islamist group but released after three months, two senior officials said.

They identified the man who planned the attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai only as Attaullah, and said he was one of the two gunmen who shot her on a school bus this month in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad.

Believed to be in his 30s, Attaullah is on the run and may have fled to neighboring Afghanistan, they said. He organized the attack on the orders of one of the Taliban’s most feared commanders, Maulana Fazlullah, officials said.

Critics say Pakistan’s low conviction rate of militants, even high-profile ones who carried out major attacks, is one reason why extremism has spread in the South Asian nation. The attack on Yousufzai, an advocate of education for girls, has drawn widespread condemnation and raised fresh questions about US ally Pakistan's commitment to fighting militancy in the nuclear-armed country.

Doctors treating her in Britain have said Yousufzai, a symbol of resistance to Taliban efforts to deprive girls of education, has every chance of making a “good recovery” after being shot in the head. The Taliban have said they attacked her because she spoke out against the group and praised US President Barack Obama.

The two officials said Attaullah was detained by security forces after a 2009 Pakistani 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.

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