Sectarian clashes kill over 20 in Pakistan

June 21st, 2008 - 11:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, June 21 (DPA) At least 22 people were killed and more than a dozen injured Saturday in armed clashes between two rival Sunni Muslim groups in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan, officials said. The firefight erupted when hundreds of heavily armed fighters from Lashkar Islami attacked the stronghold of their rival Ansarul Islam in Tera area of tribal district Khyber Agency, which borders Afghanistan.

“The sides targeted each other’s positions with rocket fire and light machine guns,” said an official of the local government in the semi-autonomous area.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 22 killings on both sides had been confirmed but the toll could rise as some of the bodies could not be moved due to the intense ongoing clashes. Up to 14 people have been reported injured so far.

Lashkar Islami is led by a 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 practices the more mystical Sufism. Both organisations 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.

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