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Suspects Arrested In School-Torching Incidents In Northern Pakistan


An overcrowded school in northwestern Pakistan.
An overcrowded school in northwestern Pakistan.

At least 17 suspects have been detained in a police operation in northern Pakistan to apprehend those responsible for torching more than a dozen schools, officials say.

Faizullah Firaq, a spokesman for the administration in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, told RFE/RL on August 5 that the search operation began overnight and was still under way.

One officer and one suspect were killed during the operation, police said.

Suspected militants on August 4 set fire to at least 12 girls' or co-ed schools in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan, according to police.

There were no casualties because the schools -- half of them girls-only -- were closed at the time.

No group claimed responsibility for the alleged arson attacks.

Following the fires, residents staged a protest demanding the arrest of the culprits and greater safety for schools.

"The extremists have shown what frightens them most -- a girl with a book," Pakistani Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai tweeted. "We must rebuild these schools immediately, get the students back into their classrooms and show the world that every girl and boy has the right to learn."

Local authorities said the schools would be restored before classes resume in the last week of August.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a remote and mountainous area that borders Afghanistan, China, and the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Pakistan faces significant education challenges, with an estimated 25 million children out of school, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

HRW said in a 2017 report that Pakistani militants had destroyed school buildings, targeted teachers and students, and terrorized parents into keeping their children out of school.

With reporting by Dawn, Geo TV, and AP