KARACHI, Pakistan — The alleged organizer of the attack against Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old activist in Pakistan's Swat region, had been captured by Pakistani military during a 2009 offensive, only to be released three months later, senior intelligence officials told Reuters.
The man known as Ataullah, who is currently believed to be on the run, had been detained by Pakistani security forces in 2009, but was freed after no evidence supporting his militancy was found.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that Malala deserved to die because she had spoken out against the group and praised the US president, Barack Obama.
According to Reuters, Ataullah was one of two gunmen suspected of shooting Malala earlier this month. The men were acting on the orders of Maulana Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.
Now, Ataullah's relatives have been taken into custody in hopes that he may surrender to Pakistani forces, said a senior official to Reuters. Reuters reported that his mother and two brothers were detained, while The New York Times said that neighbors of the family told them Ataullah's brother-in-law, uncle and brother had been detained.
"One relative said that one of the detainees, Attaullah’s brother Ehsanullah, 18, had been picked up over a month ago — suggesting that the Taliban fugitive was being sought long before Ms. Yousafzai was shot," the Times wrote.
Malala, who had a bullet removed from her skull last week, remains in a stable condition in a British hospital. An unconfirmed report on Wednesday indicated that she had come out of her coma and was slowly regaining consciousness, and a Pakistani official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that Malala was improving and has been moving her limbs.
Earlier Thursday, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples party Billawal Bhutto Zardari said that the same mindset responsible for the attack on Malala killed his mother, Benazir Bhutto. He was speaking on the fifth anniversary of the Karsaz incident, during which Bhutto narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Karachi. She was killed in an attack later that year in Rawalpindi.