ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) – Islamic militants struck back at security forces in Pakistan’s northwest while gunmen Sunday abducted a Polish engineer and extended a wave of attacks on foreigners.
The recent truck bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel has heightened concern about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, caught between the need to tackle rising militancy and the unpopularity of its alliance with the U.S.
Pakistan’s army has been fighting in Bajur, a frontier region that had become a bastion of Taliban militants, for nearly two months. It claims to have killed more than 1,000 rebels, but still faces stiff resistance.
Iqbal Khattak, a government official in Bajur, said militants attacked security forces in three places overnight. He said the troops repulsed each attack, killing 11 fighters. However, he wouldn’t give details of casualties on the government side.
The assaults were on three separate military camps near Khar, Bajur’s main town. Khattak said troops killed and wounded militants in each clash and used helicopter gunships and artillery to attack militant positions elsewhere.
In addition to the 11 rebels killed, he said dozens of militants were wounded.
Pakistani army officials could not be reached for comment.
The military operation in Bajur is a critical test of Pakistan’s ability to defeat Taliban and al-Qaeda militants who use the border regions to mount attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and send suicide bombers into Pakistani cities.
American officials have praised the Bajur effort, saying it has reduced violence in the neighboring region of Afghanistan.
However, there is no indication that it will persuade U.S. forces in Afghanistan to end cross-border operations against militants that have drawn fierce criticism in Pakistan and raised tension between the two allies.
Many Pakistanis believe their nation’s support of the U.S.-led war on terror has bred violence in their country. However, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday that the tide was turning against domestic extremism.
Speaking to business leaders in the southern city of Karachi, Gilani noted that some tribes had set up their own armies to root out militants, while warning foreign insurgents to stay away from their areas.
“People are supporting the government. People are against terrorists,” Gilani said.
Most of the 54 people confirmed dead in the Marriott bombing were Pakistanis. However, two Americans and the Czech ambassador also died in the attack, which devastated a symbol of foreign influence in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan.
Sunday’s kidnapping will heighten anxiety in an expatriate community already braced for possible instructions from the U.N. and foreign missions to repatriate family members and nonessential staff.
Officials said armed men in a car ambushed a vehicle carrying a Polish engineer early Sunday morning near the northwestern city of Attock.
The assailants killed the three Pakistanis in the vehicle — the driver, a guard and an assistant to the engineer — before kidnapping the Pole, police official Faisal Manzoor said.
Polish Embassy spokesman Piotr Adamkiewicz confirmed the abduction and said the victim worked for Geofizyka, a company based in the Polish city of Krakow which helps survey Pakistani oil fields,
It was unclear if the kidnappers would seek a ransom or make political demands in return for his release.
Last week, unidentified gunmen abducted the Afghan ambassador-designate to Pakistan and killed his driver in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Taliban militants have confirmed that they are holding two Chinese telecoms engineers who disappeared at the end of August in the northwestern district of Dir.