IHT : Militants decapitate 13 men seized in northwestern Pakistan, official says

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Militants decapitate 13 men seized in northwestern Pakistan, official says

The Associated Press | October 26, 2007

SWAT, Pakistan: Militants have executed 13 captives accused of being spies in apparent retaliation for an assault by security forces on the stronghold of a militant cleric in northwestern Pakistan, officials said Saturday.

The men, including six security personnel and seven civilians, were captured by militants at a roadblock they had set up on the outskirts of Swat district, said Home Secretary Badshah Gul Wazir, the top civilian security official of the North West Frontier Province where Swat is located.

Officials said earlier that 11 people had been kidnapped Friday.

A witness said he had seen six of the bodies with notes attached accusing them of being American agents.

A spokesman for the pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, claimed the killings were carried out by local residents who back the militants' aims — although there was no other indication that villagers were responsible for the deaths.

"It was done by common people, who support us because we only want enforcement of Islamic laws," Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press.

Wazir said the civilians were accused of being spies.

"The civilians were killed to terrorize the people. (The militants) say they were either informers or were supporting the government side," Wazir told the AP by telephone from Peshawar, the province's capital.

Militants seized the men after an attack Friday on Fazlullah's stronghold of Imam Dheri village in which security forces backed by helicopters and militants traded fire using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other weapons.

The fighting, which had subsided by Saturday, has claimed at least three lives, including two civilians who were hit by militant fire, Wazir and the militants said.

About 2,500 paramilitary troops have been deployed to Swat — until recently regarded as one of Pakistan's main tourist resorts because of its mountain and river scenery — to tackle the cleric who has rallied his supporters to wage jihad, or holy war, against government forces.

Rising militancy in northwestern Pakistan has shaken the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terror. The latest violence marks an escalation of the conflict between his government and pro-Taliban forces.

Authorities on Saturday dropped leaflets from a helicopter urging residents to help police and paramilitary forces "eliminate extremism and terrorism from the Swat valley."

"You must remember that establishing Islamic courts, implementation of Shariah (Islamic law) and bringing peace is the first priority of the government," it said in the local Pashtu language.

Police recovered the remains of four of the kidnapped men — three Frontier Constabulary soldiers and one policeman — before dawn on Saturday, said Javed Shah, a local police official. He said villagers told police the executions were conducted Friday in public in Ningulai village, about three kilometers (two miles) from Imam Dheri.

"The masked militants, who were Maulana Fazlullah's men, displayed their heads and threw the severed heads and the remains of the three FC people and one policeman in a farm field," Shah said.

Jehangir Khan, a local resident, said he saw six beheaded bodies in the town of Matta, about five kilometers (three miles) away from Ningulai, on Saturday. Four were at the roadside and two near a hospital. He said the corpses had notes attached reading: "It is the fate of an American agent. Whoever works for America will face the same fate."

The fighting and executions followed a suicide car bombing Thursday that hit a truck carrying paramilitary troops in a crowded area of Mingora, the main town in Swat district. The attack killed 19 soldiers and a civilian and wounded 35.

Sirajuddin denied the cleric's involvement in the bombing, saying he wanted peace.

"If the government agrees to enforce Islam, we will lay down arms today," Sirajuddin said.

He demanded the release of Sufi Muhammad, Fazlullah's father-in-law who was jailed in 2002 for having sent thousands of volunteers to Afghanistan during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Muhammad had been head of the banned pro-Taliban group Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi — or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law — and after his arrest Fazlullah became the new chief. The group has re-emerged this year in Swat and Malakand, another impoverished conservative region near the Afghan border.

On Saturday, an Associated Press reporter visited Fazlullah's sprawling seminary at Imam Dheri, which was being guarded by dozens of militants. The seminary, set in idyllic surroundings near apple and peach orchards and the rushing Swat River, was not damaged by Friday's fighting.

Militants armed with AK-47 assault rifles and submachine guns manned checkpoints on the road leading to Imam Dheri and checked every vehicle. Other long-haired and bearded fighters, wearing turbans and covering their faces, stood at the roadside.

The Mingora blast came a week after an assassination attempt on ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the southern city of Karachi that killed 143 people. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack.

Associated Press writer Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report