ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Security forces on Friday killed an alleged organizer of last week's school massacre, the latest sign that the government and military are stepping up their assault on the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militant groups.
The slaying of the Taliban commander, known as Saddam, comes as Pakistani leaders are vowing to forcefully respond to the attack on the school. With the country still mourning the deaths of 149 students and teachers, security forces are taking their battle deep into cities while the country's air force pounds militants' havens along the border with Afghanistan.
Saying he plans "to wipe terror out of Pakistan," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif huddled with his cabinet much of Friday to oversee the implementation of a newly announced antiterrorism policy. While Pakistan's battle against Islamist militants has appeared to sputter during much of the last decade, Sharif has stressed in recent days that the current operations will define his term as prime minister.
Under its new policy, the government is planning to quickly establish military courts to try terrorism suspects and expedite the executions of prisoners being detained on terrorism charges.
A senior Interior Ministry official said 6,777 Pakistani residents are being monitored around-the-clock for suspected ties to militant groups. Mass arrests are likely in the coming days, the official added. On Friday, 83 suspects were picked up in the capital, Islamabad, according to Pakistan's the Nation newspaper.
The Pakistani military also issued a statement saying that fresh air strikes in North Waziristan along the Afghan border had killed 23 militants, including some Taliban commanders. Earlier in the day, eight militants were slain in two suspected U.S. drones strikes in the same area, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
Saddam, 25, was killed in a firefight with security forces in Khyber Agency, in the country's unruly tribal belt near the Afghan border. He is believed to have provided lodging for the seven Taliban fighters who stormed the army-run school in Peshawar on Dec. 16, according to local officials. He helped guide the fighters, all of whom were killed in the attack, to the school, officials said.