Pakistani police on Sunday killed the prime suspect behind the brazen arson attacks targeting 14 schools, mostly all-girls’, in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, according to a media report.
The schools were burnt down over a period of two days in coordinated attacks in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer district, triggering protest by local residents who sought safety for educational institutions.
“The prime suspect believed to be responsible for the torching of 14 girls’ schools over a period of two days in Gilgit-Baltistan’s was killed during a search operation in the Tanger area on Sunday” Diamer Police Spokesperson Muhammad Wakeel was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
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Shafiq - who has no known association with any militant or terrorist outfit, but is referred to as a ‘militant’ and ‘militant commander’ by police officials - was the prime suspect behind the brazen arson attacks targeting girls’ schools in the Chilas, Darel and Tanger tehsils of Diamer district, it said.
Gilgit-Baltistan government spokesperson Faizullah said that 10 to 12 police parties carried out raids in various parts of Diamer on Saturday night to track down those responsible for the arson attack.
A police constable was killed and another wounded in a gun battle with armed suspects during a late night raid in Tanger on Saturday. So far 18 suspects have been arrested for the torching of the schools.
Wakeel said that the militants in Tanger were attempting to flee the area but locals surrounded them. A civilian was injured and at least three to four others were injured in exchange of fire between police and the militants during the operations, the paper said.
Nobel laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai and Prime Minister in-waiting Imran Khan have strongly condemned the attacks.
“The extremists have shown what frightens them most - a girl with a book,” Malala, 21, tweeted.
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“Shocking & condemnable torching of schools in GB...This is unacceptable and we will ensure security for schools as we are committed to focusing on education, especially girls’ education which is integral to Naya Pakistan,” Khan said.
Girls’ schools are often attacked in the northern areas of Pakistan. In December 2011, at least two girls’ schools were partially damaged in low-intensity explosions in Chilas.
Earlier that year, unidentified assailants had also blown up two girls’ schools. In 2004, girls’ schools in Chilas came under a string of attacks. Nine schools of which eight were girls’ schools were attacked and destroyed in five days in the area in February.
Terrorists have also blown up educational institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
According to a report, about 1,500 schools have been destroyed in the tribal belt during the last 10 years.
In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report stated that attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls, in Pakistan.