Tue, May 20, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Taliban says suicide attack avenged ‘US’ missile strike

AFP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

A soldier stands guard near a market in Mardan, Pakistan, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Pakistani Taliban militants yesterday said a weekend suicide attack that killed 13 people was carried out in revenge for a suspected US missile strike on a rebel hideout.

The suicide bomber struck near an army base in the northwestern city of Mardan on Sunday night, in the deadliest attack since a new government came to power in late March and began talks with the militants.

“Our local Taliban leaders in Mardan have telephoned us and claimed responsibility for the attack,” said Maulvi Omar, the spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban Movement).

“The Mardan attack was in reaction to Damadola,” he said, referring to a missile strike last week that killed 14 people in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military has accused US-led coalition forces based in Afghanistan of launching the missile from a pilotless drone and lodged a complaint over the violation of its territorial sovereignty.

Pakistan’s new government launched negotiations with Taliban militants based in the tribal belt after defeating Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s political allies in February general elections.

The talks have led to a marked drop in suicide attacks in nuclear-armed Pakistan, although the US has expressed concern, saying that any deal could let rebels regroup.

US President George W. Bush and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pledged after meeting for the first time at a summit in Egypt on Sunday to combat “terrorism”, but gave no public indication of a future joint policy.

Omar said negotiations between the government and the militants were in their “final stage and we hope for a positive outcome” — but warned against following US policies.

“Our men are greatly angered by the killing of innocent people in the Damadola attack and we want the government to take practical steps to stop American intervention in Pakistani areas,” Omar said. “The government should refrain from following Washington’s policy and imposing their war on us.”

Omar also condemned Pakistani authorities for allegedly demolishing the houses of local Taliban in Darra Adam Khel, a tribal area near the northwestern city of Peshawar.

“Incidents like the missile strike in Damadola and ongoing action in Darra Adam Khel against our men would trigger a serious reaction from local Taliban inside Pakistan,” he said.

Islamabad has fought a bloody campaign against pro-Taliban rebels and their al-Qaeda allies since US-led forces ousted Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban government in late 2001.

The violence soared last year, with more than 1,000 people dying in suicide attacks in Pakistan since the start of the year, including opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Officials said last week that Pakistan had moved its troops away from villages and towns in the tribal zone as the peace talks progressed, while the militants freed Islamabad’s kidnapped ambassador to Kabul.

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