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Obama urges ‘serious’ action against Pak extremists – University attack suspects held

Pakistani army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa addresses a news conference in Peshawar
Pakistani army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa addresses a news conference in Peshawar

ISLAMABAD, Jan 24, (Agencies): Pakistani security agencies have arrested five men accused of helping organise Wednesday’s attack on a university in the country’s troubled northwest that killed 21 people, the military announced on Saturday.

The assault on Bacha Khan university campus in Charsadda by four armed assailants was later claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taleban and bore a chilling resemblance to a December 2014 massacre at a school in Peshawar that killed more than 150 people, mostly children. “The five facilitators have been arrested and the another one, whom I will call terrorist-A is still at large,” military spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa told a televised press conference in Peshawar on Saturday. According to the officer, “terrorist-A” arranged transportation for the four gunmen who travelled from Torkhum town, which borders Afghanistan.

The suspects also secured accommodation for the assailants and provided them with a rickshaw that they used on the day of the attack. They also helped purchase their weapons in the country’s tribal belt and relied on women close to the accused to help smuggle guns. “Women wearing traditional veils do not usually undergo a routine body search at the checkpoints,” said Bajwa. He went on to confirm that authorities suspect the assault on the university was planned and directed by militant groups residing in Afghanistan, adding that one of the organisers had made as many as 10 calls to the attackers on a mobile phone that had an Afghan SIM card.

On Friday, the Taleban faction behind the massacre at Bacha Khan university posted a video message vowing to target schools throughout the country, calling them “nurseries” for people who challenge Allah’s law. The military intensified an ongoing offensive against extremists in Pakistan’s tribal areas after attack on the Peshawar school in 2014. The government also launched a National Action Plan cracking down on extremism.

Security improved in 2015 — but critics have repeatedly warned the government is not taking long-term steps to tackle the underlying causes of extremism. The Pakistani army said on Saturday the four gunmen who attacked a university in northwest Pakistan were trained in Afghanistan and the assault was controlled by a Pakistani Taleban militant from a location inside Afghanistan. In a briefing to reporters from the city of Peshawar, military spokesman General Asim Bajwa said the militants who stormed Bacha Khan University in Charsadda on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people, received training in Afghanistan and crossed over into Pakistan from the Torkham border between the two countries.

Bajwa said the attack was masterminded by Umar Mansoor, a Pakistani Taleban militant based in Afghanistan who is also held responsible for the December 2014 massacre of 134 children in the city of Peshawar – the deadliest militant attack in Pakistan’s history. A deputy of Mansoor helped the attackers reach the Torkham border from where they crossed over into Pakistan, the spokesman said.

The army’s claims once more highlight the need for improved relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan which would prevent militants from carrying out cross-border terrorism which have undermined peace efforts in the region.

US President Barack Obama has urged Pakistan to show it is “serious” about crushing extremist networks operating on its territory, saying the latest mass killing of students underlined the need for more decisive action. In an interview with the Press Trust of India published on Sunday, Obama praised recent crackdowns by Pakistani security forces but said more should be done to eradicate violent Islamist groups. “Pakistan has an opportunity to show that it is serious about delegitimising, disrupting and dismantling terrorist networks,” Obama told the news agency in Washington. “In the region and around the world, there must be zero tolerance for safe havens and terrorists must be brought to justice.”

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