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'Top Swat Taliban commander killed'

Pakistan's army Wednesday said it had killed a top aide of fugitive Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, as they continued their hunt for militant chieftains in the northwest Swat valley.

world Updated: Oct 07, 2009 19:29 IST

Pakistan's army Wednesday said it had killed a top aide of fugitive Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, as they continued their hunt for militant chieftains in the northwest Swat valley.

Nisar Ahmed, also known as Ghazi Baba, one of 15 Swat insurgents commanding a 10 million rupee (120,000 dollar) bounty offered by authorities in May, was killed in a clash outside the valley's main town on Wednesday, the army said.

"After a tip from an informant, the forces surrounded the house of Nisar Ahmed to arrest him but he resisted and started firing on troops," said Major Mushtaq Khan, a spokesman for the army-run Swat Media Centre.

"During the retaliatory fire, Nisar Ahmed was killed and his son was arrested," he told AFP, adding that no soldiers were injured in the exchange.

Another security official based in the area said that the pre-dawn operation was launched in Matta town, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) northwest of Mingora, the main hub in the one-time tourist paradise of Swat valley.

The Swat Taliban were not immediately available to confirm the death -- their spokesman Muslim Khan is in military custody -- but residents in Matta told AFP by telephone that they had seen Baba's corpse.

"We have seen his dead body. It was later taken by the security forces," a resident said, requesting anonymity for fear of militant reprisals.

The region slipped out of government control after radical cleric Fazlullah rose up in July 2007, commanding thousands of followers who beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought to enforce a harsh brand of Islamic law.

Fazlullah remains at large with a 50-million-rupee (600,000 dollars) bounty on his head. In September, the military arrested four of his top aides in a sweep following a military assault to purge the Taliban threat in the valley.

Pakistan launched the blistering air and ground offensive after militants marched out of Swat and advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in April.

The military says the area is clear and most of the two million people who fled their homes have returned, but sporadic outbreaks of violence continue, while some fear the Swat Taliban are regrouping elsewhere in the northwest.

Pakistan's military is now poised for a similar assault on the northwest semi-autonomous tribal belt along the Afghan border -- the bastion of the Pakistani Taliban and also a hideout for Al-Qaeda fighters.

Jet fighters pounded the area killing six militants in tribal South Waziristan on Tuesday and troops are massing in the area, but the military has not revealed when a full-scale onslaught will begin.

The government blames the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group (TTP) based in North and South Waziristan for most of the suicide bombings and attacks that have killed more than 2,140 people across Pakistan in the last two years.

The TTP have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed four Pakistanis and one Iraqi on Monday at the Islamabad headquarters of the UN's World Food Programme, the worst attack in the capital in months.