PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – The Pakistani Taleban which claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s school rampage that killed at least 130 people is the country’s main extremist rebel group and was also behind the shooting of Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Considered to have close ties to Al-Qaeda and listed as a terrorist group by the United States since September 1, 2010, the ‘Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan’ (TTP) is a loose coalition of extremist militants that has killed thousands of Pakistanis since its formation in 2007.
The organisation, which was formed in reaction to a raid by Pakistani authorities on a radical mosque in Islamabad, declared a holy war against the Pakistani government which it accuses of helping the US in its “war on terror”.
The group said its attack on Tuesday on the army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar came in response to an offensive launched against it by government troops in mid-June.
The TTP’s strongholds are located in the country’s semi-autonomous tribal zones close to the border with Afghanistan and the regional centre of extremist activity since Taleban fighters were driven out of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Its first chief was the brutal Baitullah Mehsud who was killed by a US drone strike in 2009, and later replaced by a member of the same tribe, Hakimullah Mehsud.
On October 9, 2012, the group intercepted a bus that was carrying schoolgirl activist Malala, who was just 15 at the time but had already gained fame for campaigning for the right of girls to education.
The group said it had shot her in the face for supporting secularism and for her “campaign against Sharia” or Islamic law.
In November 2013, a US drone strike killed Hakimullah Mehsud. Following a period of infighting he was replaced by Mullah Fazlullah, who became known as Mullah Radio for his nightly broadcasts to residents of the Swat Valley, which his forces controlled from 2007 to 2009.
Up to that point, all TTP leaders had come from the Mehsud tribe, which represents the group’s backbone.
Pakistani officials condemned the drone strike because it took place just as the government was trying to get the rebels to join a peace process.
In mid-June, after fresh negotiations fell through and following repeated requests from Washington as US forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Pakistani army launched an offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan.