Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed on Friday that Pakistani Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah had been killed in a U.S. drone strike.
Fazlullah is believed to have ordered the failed 2012 assassination of Malala Yousafzai, who became a global symbol of the fight for girls’ rights to schooling, and who later won the Nobel Peace Prize.
U.S. forces targeted Fazlullah in a counterterrorism strike on Thursday in eastern Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. officials said, without confirming his death.
“I spoke with Prime Minister of #Pakistan Nasir ul Mulk and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and confirmed the death of Mullah Fazlullah,” Ghani tweeted, adding: “His death is the result of tireless human intel led by #Afghan security agencies.”
Ghani added the Pakistani leaders had assured him the strike was “a great step toward building trust between the two nations,” while urging them to “bring [the] Afghan Taliban residing in Pakistan to the negotiation table.”
Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders—charges Islamabad denies. Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistan Army called Fazlullah’s apparent death a “positive development.”
Fazlullah’s group—the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan—was behind the massacre of more than 150 people at a Peshawar school in December 2014, and nine dead in another attack in December 2017 in the same city. He went into hiding in Afghanistan in 2009 and his death “gives relief to scores of Pakistani families who fell victims to TTP terror including the [school] massacre,” the Pakistan Army statement added.
But the Pentagon would not confirm Fazlullah’s death, saying it can take time to gather definitive proof. Top militant leaders have been reported dead before—only to later resurface.
“We targeted [Fazlullah] but we’re not ready to call jackpot yet,” a U.S. defense official told AFP. A second defense official also confirmed the strike had targeted Fazlullah.
The U.S. State Department in March announced a $5 million reward for help locating Fazlullah, who has been linked to bloody attacks in Pakistan and the attempted Times Square car bombing in New York in 2010. It said the group has “demonstrated a close alliance with Al Qaeda” and had given explosives training to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.
According to Pakistani officials, Fazlullah, who is believed to be in his 40s, took refuge in Afghanistan after the TTP was pushed out of Pakistan following multiple offensives by the military on its safe havens.
As a schoolgirl, Malala became an activist who chronicled her life under the Taliban. She became a global symbol for human rights after a gunman boarded her school van on Oct. 9, 2012, asked “Who is Malala?” and shot her. The Pakistani Taliban accused her of “anti-Islamic” activities and of “smearing” the militant group in statements released after the attack. She was treated for her injuries in the English city of Birmingham, where she also completed her schooling.
Malala’s near-miraculous survival and subsequent fierce education campaigns have turned her into an instantly recognizable force for human rights.