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Pakistani Forces Kill Suspected Mastermind Behind Peshawar School Massacre

The commander, identified only as "Saddaam," was killed during a shootout in the tribal area of Khyber and is suspected of facilitating the school attack and other recent bombings.
Photo by AP/Mohammad Sajjad

Troops in Pakistan took out a key Taliban leader in the country's tribal region near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing the suspected mastermind behind the December school attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar that left 132 children dead, according to local officials.

The slain commander was identified as "Saddam," and was killed by Pakistani forces during a shootout in the tribal area of Khyber — which borders nearby Peshawar — according to local government official Shahab Ali Shah.


Speaking to journalists in Peshawar, Shah said officials had "credible reports" indicating Saddam had facilitated the school attack, adding that he was also the mastermind of other attacks throughout Pakistan.

"Commander Saddam was a dreaded terrorist, who was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces in Jamrud town of Khyber tribal region," Shah said, noting during the press conference how deeply Saddam was involved in the December 16 Peshawar attack was unknown.

An interview with a survivor of the Peshawar massacre. Watch it here.

Six other accomplices were also taken into custody during the Khyber raid. "Authorities are currently interrogating the injured terrorists," Shah told reporters.

Saddam is believed to be the commander of the Tariq Gedar faction, part of the Pakistani Taliban's larger Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) group. Shah said he was also responsible for several recent bombings and deadly ambushes at Pakistani security forces. While officials accuse Saddam of coordinating the school massacre, Umar Mansoor allegedly made the orders for the attack for TTP head Maulana Fazlullah.

Specifically, Saddam is suspected of facilitating a deadly 2013 attack on volunteers working on a polio immunization campaign in the country.

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The Christmas Day raid was part of a larger anti-Taliban mission launched by the Pakistani government in June, which has left more than 1,700 suspected terrorists dead, and has also pushed many Taliban militants out of their stronghold in North Waziristan and into Khyber.

Pakistan's security forces have ramped up these operations since the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, which left a total of 148 people dead including the school children. Shortly after the massacre, the government convened high-level meetings, and lifted a ban on the death penalty. Since reinstalling capital punishment, six individuals who were convicted on terrorism charges have been executed.

Separately from the Khyber raid, officials said a drone strike carried out by the US on a Taliban complex in North Waziristan left at least four militants dead. This is the second American drone strike in less than a week, following an attack that killed five militants on December 20.

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