Pakistan: security forces battle neo-Taliban in NWFP
Pakistani security forces backed up by helicopter gunships engaged militants at the madrassa of extremist cleric Maulana Fazlullah at Kabal in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province Oct. 26. The gun-battle apparently began when a patrol was fired on, and ended when security forces seized what was described as a militant training camp near the seminary. The cleric, known as "Maulana Radio" for his illegal broadcasts urging Taliban-style rule, is thought to have 4,500 armed followers. The fighting was in the Swat district, where a bomb attack on a truck carrying members of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary near Mingora one day earlier killed 17 militiamen and three civilians, damaging several shops.
A spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah's forces told Reuters one of their fighters had been killed and four wounded in the battle, and that the militants had taken two soldiers and two police hostage. The spokesman denied Fazlullah's followers were responsible for the suicide attack.
Fazlullah's Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) or Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law, which was banned by strongman Pervez Musharraf in January 2002, has gained a strong following in the region. TNSM militants have blown up at least 100 shops selling popular music and videos. The bombing campaign has escalated since the central government began a deployment of troops into the region in July, claiming dozens of lives.
North-West Frontier Province home secretary Badshah Gul Wazir vowed that the government would press ahead with its plan to restore its control in the area. "The guys have to surrender," he said, referring to the militants. "They have criminal cases registered against them. Whether they do so through negotiations or through force is up to them." (Reuters, NYT, Oct. 26)
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