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May 4, 5:51 AM EDT

Pakistani army chief confirms death sentences for 11 Taliban



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ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan's army chief signed off on the death sentences of 11 members of the Taliban convicted of terrorism, kidnappings, attacks on civilians as well as assaults on police and army officers, an army statement said.

The 11 were tried by military courts in closed-door trials. Pakistan started military trials for those suspected of terrorism after lifting a 2008 moratorium on the death penalty following the Peshawar school massacre that killed over 150, mostly kids, in late 2014.

In cases of capital punishment handed down by military courts, the army chief is required to confirm the sentences. A Pakistani army statement late Tuesday said Gen. Raheel Sharif signed off on the sentences.

It was not immediately known when the executions would take place. The 11 have the right to appeal.

Four of the Taliban militants - identified as Maulvi Dilbar Khan, Hameedullah, Mohammad Nabi and Rehmatullah - confessed to killing a police chief and two senior army officers in a 2013 attack in northern Pakistani district of Chilas, the statement said. The three officers were shot and killed during their investigation of an earlier Taliban attack, which killed nine foreign climbers at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, one of the tallest peaks in the world.

So far, some 207 Taliban militant suspects have gone on trial before military courts, and verdicts for 88 of them have been announced, Pakistani army spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa told Dunya News TV.

The Pakistani Taliban and allied local and foreign Islamic militant groups have been waging a war on the state for over a decade, killing tens of thousands of people.

The army in 2014 launched wide-scale army operations targeting main militant sanctuaries in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. Major operations there are now almost finished, Bajwa said, adding that the military now was focusing on intelligence-based operations against militants and their facilitators in Pakistani cities.

Human rights groups have raised concerns over proceedings before military courts, which are off limits to the media and the public.

In other developments, the army chief on Wednesday ordered an inquiry into the death of detained political activist Aftab Ahmad in the southern port city of Karachi. Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers, who control security in the city, on Tuesday handed Ahmad's body back to his family.

Ahmad was working as coordinator for Farooq Sattar, a senior leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The party is headed by Altaf Hussain who has been living in self-imposed exile in London since early 1990s.

The MQM leaders say the Rangers said Ahmad had died of a heart attack during investigation. However, close-up photographs of the body posted on social media and aired on local TV stations raised suspicions of torture.

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