ISLAMABAD - The alleged organizer of the Taliban shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl was captured during a 2009 military offensive against the hardline Islamist group but released after three months, two senior officials told Reuters.

They identified the man who planned the attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai only as Attaullah, and said he was one of the two gunmen who shot her on a school bus this month in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad.

Believed to be in his 30s, Attaullah is on the run and may have fled to neighboring Afghanistan, they said. He organized the attack on the orders of one of the Taliban's most feared commanders, Maulana Fazlullah, officials said.

Critics say Pakistan's low conviction rate of militants, even high-profile ones who carried out major attacks, is one reason why extremism has spread in the South Asian nation.

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