Pakistani troops on Friday consolidated their positions in the restive northwestern Swat valley and nearby areas in the wake of two attacks by Taliban fighters that killed 14 security personnel, even as militants retaliated by targeting a mosque, leaving 40 dead.
The security forces also killed 10 more militants and apprehended six terrorists, including three activists of the banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi in different parts of the Malakand division, the military said in a statement. Fourteen security personnel were injured in fighting over the past 24 hours.
At least 40 people were killed and dozens injured when a suicide bomber struck during weekly on Friday prayers at a crowded mosque in the restive Dir area of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.
The powerful blast occurred when over 200 people were present in the mosque at Hayagai Sherqi in Upper Dir district, witnesses said.
Top district official Atif-ur-Rehman told reporters at least 40 people were killed and dozens injured.
Doctors in local hospitals described the condition of several of the injured as critical.
This was the ninth bomb attack in Pakistan since the army launched a campaign against the Taliban in nearby Swat valley. Local residents said the attack targeted a community that had resisted the Taliban in recent times.
A police official in the district told state-run APP news agency that militants targeted the mosque as local residents had stopped the Taliban’s activities and barred their entry into the area. This had annoyed the militants, he said.
Witnesses said the suicide bomber detonated his explosives when some persons tried to prevent him from entering the mosque. The explosion damaged the mosque and destroyed 14 nearby shops.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which coincided with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke’s visit to Pakistan.
Hours after army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Thursday said the tide had "decisively turned" in Swat due to the military operation, militants shot dead 11 security personnel, including a paramilitary captain and three senior police officers, during a gun battle in Mardan district.
Militants on Thursday targeted a security forces convoy that was on its way to the restive Buner district with an improvised explosive device. Following the attack on the Rustam-Ambela road, reinforcements from the paramilitary Frontier Corps were sent to the site.
Terrorists hiding close to the site of the ambush then attacked the Frontier Corps troops, killing a captain, three senior police officers and seven other security personnel. Twelve security personnel were injured in the gun battle that continued for several hours. Response by the security forces killed 10 terrorists in a fierce gun battle and cleared the area.
Three soldiers were killed in the troubled South Waziristan tribal region when a security forces convoy was targeted with an IED near Jandola, the military said.
Security forces captured six terrorists, including three Afghan nationals and Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi leaders Maulana Muhammad Alam, Amir Izzat Khan and Syed Wahab, during a raid on a madrassa in Amandarra, the headquarters of the TNSM. Grenades, arms and ammunition were seized during the raid, which was conducted after security forces received a tip-off that militatns were present in Amandarra.
During a cordon and search operation at a compound in Mingora, the main city in Swat district, security forces seized 35 IEDs, 500 detonators, a large number of pistols and rifles, three Thuraya satellite phone sets, two FM transmitters and three long-range antennas. During a subsequent exchange of fire with militants, a soldier was injured.
Troops also cleared the strip running from Chakesar valley up to Aloch, Bazar Kot and Shell Qaser and established a link up with security forces north of Charbagh, a former Taliban stronghold. A militant was also captured during a search operation at Nat Kalakot.
The military says over 1,300 militants and more than 100 security personnel have died since operations were launched against the Taliban in Buner, Dir and Swat districts. Though the troops have captured several Taliban stronghold, including Mingora, Charbagh and Pir Baba, the militants have now begun striking back through ambushes and suicide attacks.
Over 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting and the army and international relief agencies are grappling with the needs of the people forced from their homes. The army today provided rations and relief items for 3,000 members of the Sikh community displaced from Swat valley.
Rations were also distributed among hundreds of displaced people in Akora Khattak, Jehagira and Rashekai while 50 tonnes of rations were despatched to Khwazakhela, Madian, Kalam and Bahrian in Swat valley.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the government would take strict action against anyone challenging its writ. The government is making efforts to improve infrastructure in areas cleared by the army and has decided to acquire the services of 10,000 retired army personnel in this regard, he said.
Malik also contradicted reports about the arrest of TNSM chief Sufi Muhammad. The TNSM had yesterday claimed Sufi Muhammad had been arrested with two of his sons. Malik said the security forces had arrested some militant commanders and their deputies but Sufi Muhammad was not among them.
Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and top military officials today met the leadership of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, at the General Headquarters Rawalpindi to discuss post-conflict management and a roadmap for the settlement of the displaced people.
The military and civil leaders held a detailed discussion following a host of presentations on addressing political and administrative issues likely to be confronted in the terrorism-affected areas of Malakand division.
The civil and military leadership decided to accelerate such engagements to discuss options and refine their roadmap.
The Taliban have vowed to carry out attacks across Pakistan in retaliation for the military operations. Militants have carried out deadly attacks in Lahore and the northwestern cities of Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan.
Authorities have increased security in major cities in recent days due to fears of more attacks. Interior Minister Malik told reporters on Friday that some suspected bombers were caught in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with suicide jackets.