Pakistan army captures high-ranking Taliban commander

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (REUTERS) - The Pakistani military has captured a high-ranking Taliban commander who once tried to blow up former president Pervez Musharraf and later escaped jail with hundreds of other prisoners, security officials said on Tuesday.

Adnan Rashid was captured on Friday in a house where he was living with his family in northwest Pakistan's mountainous region bordering Afghanistan, the officials said. He was injured in a shootout during his arrest.

Rashid, captured in the Wana area of South Waziristan, is the first major Taliban commander captured since the military launched an offensive in neighbouring North Waziristan last month. The army says it will drive Taliban insurgents from their key strongholds in the region.

The offensive followed years of pressure on Pakistan by its NATO allies to crack down on Taliban havens in North Waziristan.

But local residents said that most militants moved out well before ground troops arrived. More than half a million civilians were also ordered to leave last month before the offensive began. Government figures show more than 900,000 have sought aid, although that also indicates fraud and duplications.

Since then, the government has seized control of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. It claims to have killed hundreds of militants.

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 after militants attacked Bannu prison using rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles.

Following his release, he claimed responsibility for masterminding another jail break that freed 250 prisoners, made a series of YouTube videos and wrote an open letter attempting to justify the assassination attempt on schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.

Local residents in the area where Rashid was captured say 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.

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.

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