Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Gunmen kill senior Pakistani Taliban as strikes continue

AFP and AP, MIRANSHAH and PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Unidentified gunmen yesterday killed a senior Pakistani Taliban commander who had a government bounty on his head, officials and the deceased’s family said.

Asmatullah Shaheen, a former interim chief of the militant group, was ambushed in the village of Dargah Mandi near Miranshah, the main town in the troubled North Waziristan tribal district.

“Unknown attackers opened fire on Asmatullah Shaheen’s car. He, along with three associates, died on the spot,” a security official in Miranshah said.

A close relative of Shaheen’s told reporters that two others traveling in the car were critically wounded.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killing yet, but another local security official blamed a rival militant group.

Shaheen, who was a member of the Taliban’s top council and leader of the Bhittani tribe, had a 10 million Pakistani rupee (US$160,000) bounty on his head.

Earlier this month, Islamabad entered into talks with the Taliban aimed at ending their seven-year insurgency, but the group continued carrying out attacks on a near-daily basis and the dialogue was suspended last week after the insurgents claimed they had executed 23 kidnapped soldiers in a northwestern tribal region.

On Sunday, a bomb killed 14 people and wounded 15 at a busy bus terminal in Kohat, about 150km west of the capital, Islamabad, authorities said.

The explosion targeted passengers in a motorized rickshaw and those on a minibus, police official Iqbal Khan said.

No one immediately claimed the attack, although Kohat has been the scene of attacks against the local minority Shiite population conducted by the Taliban and allied groups.

Khan and police official Fazal Naeem said the vehicles targeted by the blast were bound for a Shiite-majority area and that they suspect that the minority Muslims could have been the targets.

Provincial police chief Nasir Durrani said security forces have been conducting counterinsurgency operations in the area.

Since the Islamabad-Taliban talks collapsed, the Pakistani Air Force has been carrying out air strikes in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, killing dozens.

In the latest strikes, the air force hit militants’ compounds and a bomb-making factory in Tirah Valley in the Khyber tribal region, an army and an intelligence official said late on Sunday. They claimed that at least 28 militants were killed.

There was no way to independently confirm the report, as the remote tribal area is off limits to journalists.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif long has favored peace talks over military action to end the bloodshed, but he is also under pressure from critics to retaliate for any Taliban violence.

One of the critics is an ethnic political party based in Karachi called the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

The party on Sunday held an anti-Taliban rally to express solidarity with Pakistan’s security forces.

Thousands of people demonstrated and heard an address delivered from London by party leader Altaf Hussain, who said by telephone: “Taliban are cancer for Pakistan. Taliban are cancer for the humanity.”

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