05/17/2023, 15.26
PAKISTAN
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Swat Valley: policeman shoots pupils at Catholic school, kills an eight-year-old girl

The guard, Muhammad Alam Khan, was hired to protect the school. After his arrest, investigators are looking for a motive. A few years ago, the school was shut down due to terrorist attacks by the Taliban. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai was shot in the same area in 2012 by the same group. Over the past year, attacks are up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province that borders Afghanistan.

Peshawar (AsiaNews) – A police officer tasked with guarding a girls’ school run by Catholic nuns in north-western Pakistan fired at a school bus carrying teachers and students. An eight-year-old girl was killed, and at least six other girls and a woman were wounded.

The incident took place in Sangota, Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This is where activist Malala Yousafzai comes from. She won a Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning against the ban on girls' education imposed by Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, TTP),

In 2012 she was shot in the head on a bus on her way home from school. A few years earlier the same Catholic school, the Sangota Public School, had to close due to threats and terrorist attacks.

The policeman who opened fire on the schoolgirls yesterday was arrested and identified as Muhammad Alam Khan. The motive for his action is unclear.

A police officer ruled out that it was a militant attack, while a district police officer said an investigation was underway.

According to local media, Khan, originally from the Salampur area, was hired by the school three months ago. Previously, he had been suspended twice from the police for unknown reasons.

Adil Ghouri, president of the Christian Awareness Movement (Masihi Tehreek-e Beadari), along with other Christian activists condemned the attack, urging the provincial government to act.

The Catholic Public High School (more commonly known as Sangota Public School) was set up in 1962 under the direction of the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and has been run by the Irish Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Converted into an exclusively girls’ school in the 1990s, it was turned into rubble in 2009 in an attack by Islamic extremists. No one was killed or wounded at the time because the nuns had already shut it down.

Two years earlier, a threatening letter signed by the radical Islamic militant group Jan Nisaran-e-Islam accused the sisters of converting Muslim girls to Christianity, despite the fact that 99 per cent of the students were Muslim.

The school reopened in 2012 after anti-terrorist operations by the Pakistani government cleared the area. It initially had only three nuns and 80 girls; presently, it has 800 pupils, four sisters, 26 teachers and 10 support staff.

According to experts, the Taliban return in Afghanistan in August 2021 has provided renewed impetus to the TTP and other terrorist groups operating in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other border areas, such as Balochistan.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 527 deaths (civilians, military and terrorists) were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2022, up from around 300 the previous year.

This has become a source of concern for the Pakistani government at a time when it is involved in a power struggle with the political opposition.

The number of violent terrorist incidents rose from 168 in 2021 to 225 in 2022, as well as in intensity.

According to the anti-terrorism department of Peshawar, 180 terrorist attacks were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the first four months of 2023, compared to 133 in the last four months of last year.

For Pakistan’s Armed Forces, the toll in 2022 was the worst since 2013, with December being the deadliest month in 10 years.

Terrorists have targeted security forces because they represent the central government. The TTP’s objective is the creation of an Islamic emirate along Afghan lines based on Islamic law (Shari'a).

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