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Pakistan Set To Execute 23 Terror Convicts In Coming Days

Pakistani police stand guard in the watch tower of central jail in Faisalabad city after government lifted a six-year moratorium on executions.
Pakistani police stand guard in the watch tower of central jail in Faisalabad city after government lifted a six-year moratorium on executions.

Prison officials in Pakistan say 23 convicted terrorists are set to be executed within days, following a decision to reinstate the death penalty after a Taliban school massacre in Peshawar.

The list includes 17 terrorism convicts on death row whose clemency appeals were rejected this week. It also includes six former soldiers convicted in military courts of terrorist offenses.

One of the former soldiers includes Mohammed Aqeel, also known as Dr. Usman -- a former army medical doctor tied to the 2009 attacks on the Sri Lanka national cricket team and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Pakistani media sight unnamed security sources as saying Usman is due to be hanged within the next 24 hours.

Some 8,000 prisoners are currently held on death row in Pakistan, which has observed a six-year moratorium on capital punishment.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium following the killing of 132 children and nine adults in a Taliban attack on a Peshawar school on December 16.

The attack was the worst terrorist operation on Pakistani soil, and has prompted calls for the government to crack down on Islamist militia groups like the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

The Pakistani military announced it killed 32 militants during a December 17 operation in the Tirah Valley near the border with Afghanistan.

An additional 27 militants were reported killed by a series of ground assaults and air strikes in the Khyber tribal region earlier this week.

State prosecutors have also moved to reverse a court decision granting bail to the suspected mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

Prosecutors will ask the Islamabad High Court on December 22 to withdraw the bail agreement for Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

Lakhvi, believed to be a leading member of the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is one of seven people charged with planning the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead.

According to a ruling December 18, Lakhvi was due to be released after paying a $5,000 bond. He will now remain in jail pending the appeal process.

The government decision to reinstate the death penalty in terrorism cases has triggered warnings of potential jailbreak attempts in the troubled northwest region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

It has also sparked condemnation from rights groups, who say capital punishment is a poor substitute for effective protection for civilians in Pakistan's northwest.

The death penalty is "never the answer," even in the case of "unimaginable" tragedies like the Peshawar school massacre, David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, said.

Pakistani security sources have suggested the Peshawar school attack was organized by Umar Mansoor, a Pakistani militant who is thought to be based in Afghanistan.

Phone intercepts showed the Peshawar school gunmen to be receiving orders from outside the site, potentially from Afghan numbers -- a possibility that underscores the overlap between militant insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan's army chief, General Raheel Sharif, traveled to Kabul on December 18 for emergency meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Army General John Campbell, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by Dawn, BBC, AP, and Reuters