Pakistan executed two convicted terrorists Friday, the first of 400 militants headed to the hangman’s noose amid a government crackdown ordered after Taliban attackers gunned down 148 children and teachers Tuesday at a school in the northern city of Peshawar.
The sentences against Aqeel “Doctor Usman” and Arshad Mehmood were carried out at about 9 p.m. local time, behind closed doors at the prison in the eastern city of Faisalabad where they’d been incarcerated.
Both were former soldiers convicted by court-martial. Their warrants of execution had been issued Thursday by the army chief of staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, in a move indicative of Pakistan’s zero-tolerance response to the school massacre.
Aqeel had been captured while leading an October 2009 raid on the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. Mehmood was involved in a December 2003 twin suicide car-bombing of the cavalcade of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler at the time.
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The government instructed jail administrators Friday to execute 20 other people on death row whose clemency appeals Musharraf had turned down while he held the dual office of president.
Those hangings will take place over the weekend and early next week, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan indicated.
The Ministry of Interior said its legal advisers were examining the case records of 378 convicted terrorists with a view to expediting their death sentences.
More than 3,000 convicted terrorists are imprisoned in Pakistan and will be executed in 2015, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a six-year moratorium on capital punishment Wednesday, which had been introduced by a previous administration.
The Pakistani Taliban vowed Friday to avenge the executions with attacks on the teenage children of army generals and politicians.
“We will avenge the death of each holy warrior by causing mourning in their homes,” it said in a statement emailed to journalists in Pakistan.
Security at the prisons was beefed up Friday after intelligence agencies warned of possible Taliban raids to free colleagues on death row.
However, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, has found himself increasingly isolated since ordering the attack on the Peshawar school.
Fazlullah is notorious for also ordering the October 2012 shooting of teenager Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel peace laureate.
Spokesmen for the Afghan Taliban and the biggest Pakistani Taliban breakaway faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, have since issued statements condemning the killing of innocent schoolchildren and women, describing it as a betrayal of their militant Islamist beliefs.
The brutal killings Tuesday have stunned Pakistan’s militant community, albeit because the government’s ruthless response has spread within it a deep sense of dread, not out of any sympathy for the victims.
Militants who communicated with McClatchy on Friday, through a retired colleague based in Rawalpindi, all expressed sentiments the intermediary summed up as: “What has Fazlullah gone and done?”
They said Pakistan’s security services had detained their colleagues and sympathizers in droves since Tuesday. They, too, practically expect to be captured and killed, said the go-between, a retired ranking Afghan Taliban militant who identified himself only by the nom de guerre “Okasha.”
“I’m glad I got out several years ago, and that the authorities here know that, or my number would be up, too,” he said.
The executions Friday came amid continuing retaliatory strikes against the Pakistani Taliban factions who were behind the school attack, carried out by Pakistani ground forces and CIA drones on either side of the border with Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Pakistani military said army units had killed 32 militants early Friday in the Khyber tribal area as they fled toward to the adjacent eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. Another eight militants were killed there Friday in a CIA drone strike, the second in as many days amid a cross-border manhunt coordinated with the U.S.-commanded international security forces in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government said Friday that it was in the process of establishing “highly empowered” courts, under national security laws enacted in June, to hear cases against detained terrorism suspects.
Court hearings would be in secret, and prosecution witnesses would testify without their identities being disclosed, Defense Minister Mohammed Asif said in a Pakistani television interview.