18 killed in Pakistan sectarian violence (Lead)

June 23rd, 2008 - 10:16 pm ICT by IANS  

DPA
Islamabad, June 23 (DPA) At least 18 people were killed Monday in sectarian violence in Pakistan’s two adjoining tribal districts, where pro-Taliban militants also abducted 17 law enforcers, officials and media reports said. Eleven people died in ongoing sectarian violence between rival Shia and Sunni Muslim tribesmen in Kurram agency, a volatile north-western tribal district.

The beheaded bodies of eight people from the Shia tribe Toori were found dumped in Arawali and three in the Sadda area of the district, tribal chief Ali Akbar told the Geo news television channel.

However, Kurram’s administrator, Azam Khan, confirmed only eight deaths to DPA.

All those killed were abducted Friday when a food convoy they were travelling with came under attack in the Sunni-dominated area of Pir Qayyum, about 30 km south-east of Kurram’s central town of Parachinar.

Four people, including a security guard, were killed in the ambush. Later, government forces, backed by helicopter gunships, chased the attackers, killing five of them.

Kurram has been in the grip of sectarian violence since last year. Scores of people have been killed, and hundreds of families have fled the violence to an area bordering Afghanistan.

In the neighbouring Khyber Agency, warring Sunni groups continued attacking each others’ position Monday for the third day in a row, leaving seven people dead, said local official Ataur Rehman.

With the fresh casualties the toll rose to 31 in three days of clashes, while more than 50 were injured.

The battle erupted Saturday when hundreds of heavily armed fighters from Lashkar Islami attacked the stronghold of their rival Ansarul Islam in Tirah area.

Lashkar Islami is lead by firebrand cleric Mangal Bagh, who follows the puritanical Deobandi form of Sunni Islam and has close links with the former ruling extremist Taliban in Afghanistan. He has tried to impose Taliban-style rule in Khyber Agency.

The rival Ansarul Islam is led by cleric Mahboobul Haq, who practices the more mystical Sufism. Both clerics have used illegal FM radio stations to incite people against other sect, by declaring the opponents as infidels.

The groups have previously fought for dominance in the region and hundreds of their men have been killed in the fighting.

Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas have sanctuaries for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled to the area after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

They also target Pakistani security forces. The new government in Islamabad has launched peace negotiations with the rebels since March when it took over.

The process led to a sharp decline in the militant attacks, which have killed around 4,000 people over the last 15 months, but did not halt them completely.

In the latest attack on government forces, suspected pro-Taliban militants abducted 17 security personnel in Khyber Agency.

The law enforcers from tribal police, known as the Khasadar Force, were seized during a raid on two check posts by heavily armed militants in the tribal district of Khyber Agency late Sunday.

The insurgents exchanged fire with the security forces for more than one hour. One Khasadar and two militants were injured.

All three injured were moved to a hospital, but masked gunmen belonging to the militants removed their wounded comrades by force.

“We are making efforts for the release of abducted personnel’s release,” Rehman said.

The ambushes took place hours after a would-be suicide bomber threatened to blow himself up when security forces tried to arrest him in Khyber Agency.

Following hours-long negotiations, the 17-year-old militant surrendered to a local Islamic organisation, which moved him to an unknown location.
DPA

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