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22 February 2024

Taliban militants blow up five Pakistan schools

Taliban militants on Monday blew up five schools in Pakistan's troubled northwestern Swat valley, police said, one day after a government minister promised to keep them open.

The fresh attacks, one after another, follow a threat last month by a local Taliban commander to kill any girls attending classes after January 15 and blow up schools where they are enrolled.

"Four boys' schools and one girls' school were blown up by militants," district police official Anwer Khan told AFP from Mingora, a bustling town in the scenic Swat valley, which used to be a popular tourist destination.

"No one was injured in the bombings, but the school buildings were badly damaged," Khan said. Mingora schools were empty on Monday because of holidays.

Pakistan's Information Minister Sherry Rehman on Sunday vowed to keep open all girls schools in Swat and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"From March 1, all closed schools in Swat and NWFP will be re-opened after the winter break," Rehman told reporters in the southern city of Karachi.

"The non-state actors are challenging the writ of the government in the name of Sharia, but Islam does not allow to close down women's schools," Rehman said, pledging to provide full security.

The scenic area of snow-capped mountains, once Pakistan's only ski resort, has been rocked by a violent campaign for Sharia law waged by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan's Taliban movement.

His followers have blown up 173 schools, 105 of them for girls, since security forces launched an operation to crack down on militants in the region in 2007, education ministry official Sher Afzal said.

The valley has more than 600 state-run schools, in addition to 400 private schools.

The government reached a deal with the rebels in May to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system in exchange for an end to rebel attacks, but the violence eventually resumed.

Education has suffered badly in Swat as a result of the ongoing fighting between Taliban-linked militants and security forces, and only a handful of schools had still been open in the region's main town Mingora.