ISLAMABAD,(Reuters) – Islamic militants beheaded two suspected bandits and strung up their bodies on electricity poles in the latest violence to hit Pakistan”s lawless tribal region near the Afghan border, witnesses said on Friday.
The militants have been searching for members of a gang of bandits in the North Waziristan region after a clash on Tuesday in which 15 people were killed, including 10 bandits.
Five of the bandits killed on Tuesday were strung up in public. One was beheaded and his head stuck on a pole.
Residents of Miranshah, North Waziristan”s main town, awoke on Friday to find two more bodies strung up from electricity poles.
"Both were beheaded. One beheaded body was hanging upside down," said a resident of the town who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety.
Waziristan is part of Pakistan”s semi-autonomous tribal belt that stretches through rugged mountains and deserts along the border with Afghanistan.
Many al Qaeda members fled to the region from Afghanistan after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, and were given shelter by militant sympathisers from conservative Pashtun tribes that inhabit both sides of the border.
The government launched an offensive to try to clear foreign militants from the region two years ago and hundreds of people, both militants and government troops, have been killed.
President Pervez Musharraf played down the latest violence in comments to reporters in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying 70,000 troops were involved in counter-terrorism operations in Waziristan and authorities were in control.
But residents say the region is tense and many people are living in fear.
A senior government official with responsibility for tribal affairs said many people supported the militants” action against bandits, and authorities were reluctant to intervene.
"It would be inappropriate to take action against militants at a time when they have done something that people might be supporting," said the official in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
A tribal jirga, or assembly of elders, would be convened on Saturday to discuss the situation, he said. "We want to resolve it through traditional means," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Militants brandishing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers have been driving around Miranshah in pickup trucks searching for suspected bandits, the resident said.
The militants killed four bandits in a village outside Miranshah on Wednesday night after finding them hiding in the water tank of a house.
Some of the bandits had been extorting money from travellers on a road, which led to the initial clash on Tuesday.
On Thursday, 12 people were killed and dozens wounded in a bomb explosion in a market in the town of Jandola on the border with South Waziristan.
Authorities say there are still investigating and have not speculated on who might have been responsible.
A week ago, an al Qaeda commander, Abu Hamza Rabia, and four other people were killed in a blast in North Waziristan.
Authorities say he died when explosives at his hideout detonated accidentally, but villagers said the blast was caused by a missile from an aircraft, possibly a U.S. drone.
Unidentified gunmen on Monday kidnapped a Pakistani journalist, Hayatullah Khan, who had reported that Rabia was killed by a U.S. missile and had taken photographs of what villagers said were fragments of the weapon.
His brother said on Friday he had had no word on Khan”s fate.
On Thursday, the beheaded bodies of two paramilitary soldiers were found in South Waziristan, two days after they went missing with two colleagues. The whereabouts of the other two are not known.