Guardian : Fresh fighting near scene of Pakistan suicide attack

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fresh fighting near scene of Pakistan suicide attack

Mark Tran and agencies | Guardian Unlimited | October 26, 2007

A fierce clash broke out today between security forces and pro-Taliban supporters in north-west Pakistan, near the scene of a suicide attack that killed 20 people.

The fighting broke out in the village of Imam Dheri, where a cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, has a seminary.

The clash came after an attack yesterday by a suicide car bomber, who hit a truck carrying troops through a crowded area in the nearby town of Mingora. Nineteen soldiers and a civilian were killed and 35 people were wounded.

Earlier this week, some 2,500 paramilitary troops were deployed in the surrounding district of Swat in a crackdown on militants.

"The security forces attacked a building where Maulana Fazlullah had been appearing in recent days to urge his followers to target the Pakistan army, police and other security forces," Muhib Ullah, a local police official in Mingora, told the Associated Press. Another police official, Anwar Khan, reported heavy weapons fire and a helicopter flying over the area. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The outbreak of violence underlined the worsening security situation in Pakistan, particularly in the border area with Afghanistan.

Militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida have regrouped in the region, posing a growing challenge to the president, General Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally.

Mr Fazlullah's spokesman denied the cleric's involvement in the bombing, saying he wanted peace in the region and to impose Islamic law.

Mr Fazlullah heads Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammed, a banned pro-Taliban militant group which sent thousands of volunteers to fight in Afghanistan during the US-led invasion in 2001.

The suicide attack in Mingora came a week after the assassination attempt on the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who plans to start travelling around the country tomorrow.

Ms Bhutto, who returned after eight years in exile, escaped unhurt, but 136 people died in the suicide bomb attack.

Ms Bhutto is due to visit her father's tomb tomorrow in her home town of Larkana, about 270 miles north-west of Karachi. She also wants to go to Lahore and the capital, Islamabad, despite fears of another attack.