A U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, the elusive militant who ordered the assassination attempt on then-schoolgirl and future Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Afghan and Pakistani officials said Friday.
Afghan defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said that Fazlullah was killed along with two other militants and a driver when their car was struck in the eastern Afghanistan province of Kunar, along the Pakistani border, shortly after midnight Thursday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed the news in phone calls with Pakistani leaders.
Fazlullah was buried within hours in Kunar, where he had been based for several years, said a Pakistani intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan said they conducted a strike targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization” in the border region Thursday but offered no additional details. The Pakistani Taliban did not immediately comment on the reports.
Fazlullah was an inveterate militant who was also believed to be responsible for the 2014 attack on an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistan, that left more than 130 children dead. He helped preside over a reign of terror in Pakistan’s Swat Valley for years, ordering his men to kill and mutilate anyone who he believed opposed his extremist interpretation of Islam.
“Mullah Fazlullah’s death is huge news,” tweeted Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International. “He terrorized the Swat Valley, ordered the assassination attempt on Malala, killed barbers, DVD (shop) owners, dancing girls, Sufi mystics.”
He was best known for directing the shooting of Yousafzai, an outspoken activist for girls’ education, as she sat on a school bus in Swat in 2012, when she was 15. She and two classmates were shot but survived, although she had to be taken to Britain for treatment after a bullet lodged in her head.
In 2014 she won the Nobel Prize, and earlier this year she made an emotional return to Pakistan for the first time since the shooting.
Fazlullah’s death, announced on the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid, offered a moment of good feeling between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Each country has accused the other of failing to crack down on Taliban militants who roam freely across the rugged, lawless border region.
Ghani called Pakistan’s army chief and Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk to confirm Fazlullah’s death, which Mulk said “underscores the importance of dealing with terrorists that threaten the security of both countries,” according to a Pakistani government statement.
Mulk said Pakistan supported Ghani’s declaration of a temporary cease-fire against Afghan Taliban insurgents during Eid, saying it “would help pave the way for the Afghan peace process.”
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