DERA ISMAIL KHAN Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani military has captured a Taliban commander who once tried to blow up former president Pervez Musharraf, security officials said on Tuesday.
Adnan Rashid, who was captured on Friday in South Waziristan in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, is the first well-known Taliban commander taken since the military launched an offensive in neighbouring North Waziristan last month.
He was injured in a shootout during his capture in a house where he was living with his family in the Wana area of South Waziristan, the officials said.
The Pakistan army has said it will drive Taliban insurgents from their key strongholds in the region and indicated on Tuesday that it would expand its offensive into the Bajaur tribal region, further north. The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, said it would continue to ramp up attacks on Pakistani security forces in Bajaur, along the Afghan border.
Rashid, believed to be in his mid-30s, is a former Pakistani air force officer who tried to become a suicide bomber before he was jailed for a 2003 attempt to blow up then-President Musharraf. He escaped from jail in 2012 along with nearly 400 other militants. Following his release, he claimed responsibility for masterminding another jailbreak that freed 250 prisoners.
He also made a series of YouTube videos and wrote an open letter attempting to justify the assassination attempt on schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.
The Pakistan military’s offensive follows years of pressure on Islamabad by NATO allies to crack down on Taliban havens in North Waziristan.
Since the offensive began a month ago the military has seized control of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan and claims to have killed hundreds of militants.
Also on Tuesday, three Pakistani soldiers and six Taliban militants were killed in a gun battle in the village of Fateh Khel near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan.
The Taliban have killed more than a dozen members of the security forces in Bajaur in the past two months, a military official said.
In a sign that the violence may spread, two senior members of the Pakistani Taliban told Reuters the attacks were a response to the offensive in North Waziristan.
In response, the military has decided to launch another, more limited offensive in Bajaur and asked some residents to vacate their houses and villages.
“We decided to take action against the terrorists and the local people sheltering them in Bajaur. The operation has been planned in five villages along the Afghan border,” a senior government official told Reuters.
That offensive is expected to displace 25,000 people, he said. Local villagers complained that they had already been ordered to leave the area once, in 2008.
“When we returned in 2012, our houses had been flattened but the government didn’t give us even a penny to rebuild our destroyed homes,” Shahkirullah Khan, a resident, said.
Local residents in the area where Rashid was captured in South Waziristan said that leaflets purporting to be from the Taliban were being circulated, blaming Rashid’s capture on some local Taliban commanders and promising vengeance.
In recent months the Pakistani Taliban, always an uneasy alliance of competing militias, has been beset by a series of internal power struggles.
Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar contributed to this report; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Susan Fenton