US State Department offers rewards for information on Pakistani militant leaders

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US State Department said on Thursday (March 8) that it is offering a US$5 million (S$6.6 million) reward for information on Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the Pakistani Taleban, whose men shot Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

It said in a statement that it is also offering rewards of US$3 million each for information on Abdul Wali, the head of a Pakistani Taleban affiliate, and Mangal Bagh, the leader of an allied Pakistani militant group accused of attacking Nato convoys.

The State Department announcement came as Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tamina Janjua visited Washington for talks with US officials that were expected to focus on improving counter-terrorism cooperation and on US President Donald Trump's strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan.

Washington and Kabul accuse Pakistan of harbouring Afghan Taleban and fighters of the allied Haqqani network, a charge that Islamabad denies. Islamabad charges that the Pakistani Taleban maintains sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Trump in January suspended around US$2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, charging that it failed to crack down on the Afghan Taleban and Haqqani network.

In its statement, the State Department said it is offering the rewards for information on the three militant leaders because they pose threats to Pakistan, as well as to US-led coalition troops in Afghanistan.

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

The numerous strikes claimed by the group in Pakistan include the October 2012 attempted murder of Yousafzai, then an 11-year-old who advocated education for girls. She received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Wali is the leader of a TTP affiliate called Jamaat ul-Ahrar, or JUA, which has struck civilians, religious minorities, military personnel and law enforcement officials and killed two local employees of the US consulate in Peshawar in March 2016, the State Department said.

Mangal Bagh, the department said, leads Lashkar-i-Islam, a TTP ally involved in drug trafficking, smuggling and extorting "taxes" on trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The group has also attacked Nato supply convoys plying between Afghanistan and Pakistan's port of Karachi, it said.

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