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Apr 27, 8:31 AM EDT

Militant group: Pakistan using prisoner for propaganda



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ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The Taliban in Pakistan has accused the country's premier intelligence service of using a notorious captured militant leader to give the impression the group is being funded by foreign spy agencies to orchestrate attacks, a militant spokesman said.

Meanwhile, two Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday an overnight U.S. drone strike killed seven militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border, the first such strike since 2014.

Mohammad Khurasani, spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, commented late Wednesday after the Pakistani army released a video of militant Ahsanullah Ahsan. In the video, the ex-spokesman of the group said he surrendered to authorities after seeing his leaders receiving help from Indian and Afghan intelligence services to orchestrate attacks in Pakistan.

Nafees Zakaria, spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, said Thursday that Ahsan had laid down arms and revealed the role of foreign spy agencies in attacks in Pakistan.

However, Khurasani said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence was using a "prisoner" for propaganda against the group. He refuted what he called ISI's "childish" acts and "non-serious" claims of Ahsan.

Scores of attacks claimed by Ahsan in the past include the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in in the head in Pakistan's scenic valley of Swat for her advocacy for women's education.

Ahsan quit Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in 2014 and joined the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar group. He was a senior figure in that group before his surrender to authorities. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is behind dozens of attacks on civilians and Pakistan security agencies.

Pakistani army officials have said that the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazalullah, has ordered scores of attacks, including the assault on Malala, and that he is hiding in Afghanistan.

Shahhussain Murtazawi, acting spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said Afghanistan is in a war against terrorism and Kabul has never supported terrorism against others. Without naming Pakistan, he said Kabul expects other states not to allow their soil to be used to stage attacks against Afghanistan.

There was no immediate comment from India.

Ahsan, whose real name is Liaquat Ali, is from the Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan. He joined Pakistani militants in 2008 and later led media wings of militant groups, becoming a household name in Pakistan, where the army has been fighting terrorists since joining the U.S.-led war against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Ahsan on Wednesday alleged that his leadership's relations with Afghan and Indian intelligence grew after Pakistan launched a campaign against militants in North Waziristan in 2014, forcing insurgents to flee across the border to Afghanistan.

The media was not given access to Ahsan to independently confirm why he surrendered o when. It was unclear whether he will be tried for his past role against Pakistan.

Meanwhile, an overnight U.S. drone strike killed seven militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border, according to two intelligence officials, who said the strike in Zuwai village in North Waziristan was the first since 2014 when Pakistan launched a major military operation there. The officials said Thursday no high value militant was killed in the strike. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media on the record.

Pakistan's military claimed in a statement it killed several militants in overnight strikes after they tried to sneak into the country in the northwest. It gave no further details and it was not possible to independently confirm whether there were any militant casualties.

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Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Amir Shah from Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

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