ISLAMABAD, (AP) – A group of Taliban fighters under siege by hundreds of angry tribesmen tried to sneak to another village in northwest Pakistan, only to find themselves cornered there too, an official said Tuesday.
A citizens’ militia that sprang up over the weekend to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a mosque in Upper Dir district appeared unwilling to stop pursuing the Islamist fighters, underscoring the rising anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan.
The growing pressure on militants who have held sway in parts of Pakistan’s northwest comes as the army bears down on their one-time stronghold in the Swat Valley region. Talk has also turned to the possibility of another operation against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the nearby tribal belt along the country’s border with Afghanistan, something U.S. officials privately say they would like to see.
Some 1,500 tribesmen laid siege to several villages known as Taliban strongholds in Upper Dir over the weekend, eventually cornering militants in Shatkas and Ghazi Gay villages. By Tuesday, some of the Taliban tried to get away to Malik Bai village, which the tribesmen also encircled, police official Fazal Rabi said.
“About 200 Taliban have been surrounded by the militia” in the villages, Rabi said.
Officials have said the Taliban carried out Friday’s mosque bombing that killed 33 in the town of Haya Gai because they were angry that local tribesmen had resisted their moving into the area, where minor clashes between the two sides occurred for months. Rabi said the tribesmen had sworn on the Quran that they would not let the militants go unpunished.
At least 13 insurgents have died in the fighting since Saturday.
The citizens’ militia, or lashkar, was using its own weapons and had no police backup, Rabi said.
The army’s chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, on Monday urged civilians to consider the kind of rule the Taliban was trying to impose — they stand accused of whippings and beheadings in the name of Islamic law in Swat — and join the fight against them.
“Citizens should ponder upon the way of life they are introducing, if that is acceptable to us,” Abbas told the News1 television network. “If not, they have to raise a voice against them, they have to rise against them.”
Washington strongly backs the Swat offensive, and officials have said privately they would like Pakistan to follow up by launching an operation in nearby South Waziristan tribal region, the main base for Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
The government has announced no plans to attack the area, where al-Qaeda fighters also are believed to be operating.