Death penalty for six militants behind Pakistan school attack

Death penalty for six militants behind Pakistan school attack
A girl's shoe in a hall at the army-run school in Peshawar, a day after it was attacked by Taleban militants. The authorities have transcripts of the conversation between a militant and his handler.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's army on Thursday announced the death penalty for six militants linked to an assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar that killed 151 people, mainly students, in the country's deadliest terror attack.

The men were convicted by military courts established in the wake of the December 16 siege last year, while a seventh man was handed a life sentence.

"The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/providing them legal aid and defence counsels. Today the sentences of death have been confirmed by the Chief of Army Staff," a statement issued on the military's website said, adding they had a right to appeal.

The statement listed the convicts by name and carried a brief description of how each had carried out various tasks such as collecting funds, transporting or harbouring suicide bombers for the attack.

Their trial took place behind closed doors, with no information on where or when they were held or how proceedings unfolded.

The army also announced it would execute another man for carrying out an attack on soldiers in the city of Karachi in March that killed three.

Controversial courts 

The attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar led to widespread outrage, with officials announcing a slew of measures aimed at combatting terror.

The government lifted a six-year moratorium on executions - initially only for people convicted of terrorism but later extended to all capital offences, with around 180 hanged so far.

Pakistan also amended its constitution to allow military courts to try terror suspects. Despite previously having specific anti-terror courts, cases dragged on for many years and many suspects escaped punishment due to legal loopholes or lack of witnesses, who would often not appear out of fear of repercussions from militant groups.

In February, the military spokesman Asim Bajwa said the army had taken 12 Taliban members into custody in connection with the school attack, adding that 27 conspirators were involved in total.

The military courts handed down their first death sentences to six militants in April for various "heinous" offences relating to terrorism, kidnappings and suicide bombings.

But the courts have also been criticised for their lack of transparency, and their legality was challenged in the country's Supreme Court.

The challenge was overuled last week, with Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk ruling that the judiciary did not have the power to strike down constitutional amendments made by the elected parliament.

Pakistan has been battling a homegrown Islamist insurgency for over a decade following its decision to side with the US-led coalition against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Its troops have been engaged in a full-scale offensive against Taliban and other militants in North Waziristan and Khyber tribal districts since June last year.

At the time of the Peshawar attack, the Taliban said it was retaliation for the army's continuing operation against militants in the tribal areas.

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