March 8, 2018 / 9:39 PM / 9 months ago

U.S. offers $5 million bounty for Pakistani Taliban militant leader

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was offering a $5 million reward for information on Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban militant group, which has waged a decade-long insurgency in Pakistan.

The offer came amid worsening U.S.-Pakistan relations, and coincided with a visit to Washington by Pakistan’s foreign secretary for talks expected to focus on boosting counter-terrorism cooperation and the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan.

Although Pakistani Taliban militants still unleash attacks, the group has lost control of all territory in Pakistan since its Dec. 2014 attack on an army school that killed 132 children.

The U.S. State Department also offered rewards of $3 million each for information on Abdul Wali, the head of a Pakistani Taliban affiliate, and Mangal Bagh, the leader of an allied Pakistani militant group accused of attacking NATO convoys.

“Each of these individuals is believed to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of the United States and its nationals,” the department said in a statement.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, a suspected U.S. drone strike on a training camp in a remote part of Afghanistan killed Fazlullah’s son and more than 20 Pakistani Taliban militants preparing to launch suicide attacks in Pakistan

On Friday, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Mohammad Khurasani confirmed Fazlullah’s son was killed in the drone strike, but denied it was a Taliban camp, saying the U.S. drone hit a “madrassa on the border area of Afghanistan and killed 21 students”.

Washington and Kabul accuse Pakistan of harboring Afghan Taliban and fighters of the allied Haqqani network, which Islamabad denies. Islamabad says the Pakistani Taliban maintain sanctuaries in neighboring Afghanistan.

In January, U.S. President Donald Trump suspended security assistance of around $2 billion to Pakistan, saying it had failed to crack down on the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.

The three militant leaders pose threats to Pakistan, as well as U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan, the State Department said in its statement.

The Pakistani Taliban, whose Urdu name is Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, has also threatened attacks against the U.S. homeland, it said. The group claimed responsibility for a failed May 2010 bomb attack in New York City’s Times Square.

In Oct 2012, its fighters also shot Malala Yousafzai, then an 11-year-old who advocated education for girls. She received the Nobel peace prize in 2014.

Wali leads a TTP affiliate called Jamaat ul-Ahrar, which has attacked civilians, religious minorities, military and law enforcement officials and killed two local employees of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar in March 2016, the State Department said.

Mangal Bagh leads Lashkar-i-Islam, a TTP ally involved in drug trafficking, smuggling and extorting “taxes” on trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the department added.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshaway; Editing by Susan Thomas and Clarence Fernandez, Larry King

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