Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hundreds of Pakistanis held hostage by Taliban

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KHAR, Pakistan -- Dozens of militants coming from Afghanistan took scores of villagers hostage in Pakistan's northwest on Thursday, sparking fighting with the army that killed at least 14 people, Pakistani officials said.

The incident is the latest chapter in a broader infiltration trend that has seen Islamabad rail against Afghan and NATO forces for not doing enough to stop the cross-border attacks.

There has been little sympathy from the U.S. and Afghan governments, however, which have long complained Pakistan allows sanctuary to militants fighting in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Taliban gunmen opened fire on a compound in eastern Pakistan housing police trainees, killing nine of them, officials said.

The militants who staged the cross-border attack appeared to be targeting members of an anti-Taliban militia in Kitkot village near Pakistan's Bajur tribal area, said Tariq Khan, a local government official. They came from Afghanistan's Kunar province and took hundreds of villagers hostage, including militiamen, he said.

Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers surrounded the village and killed 12 militants, Khan added. Two militiamen were also killed in the fighting.

Soldiers have retrieved scores of villagers, but dozens more are still held by the militants or trapped in their homes by the fighting, said Khan and two security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The army called in gunship helicopters for support but has not used them yet for fear of civilian casualties.

The information could not be independently verified because the area is largely off-limits to reporters.

The police targeted in the eastern city of Lahore were training to become prison guards, said Habibur Rehman, the chief of police in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for police torture of their fighters in prison. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

In addition to the police who were killed, eight were also wounded, said Salman Saddiq, a government official.

One of the wounded, Shafqat Imran, said eight to 10 attackers, faces hidden behind hoods, stormed into the compound and started shooting randomly. They shouted "God is great," then shot the policemen one by one, said Imran, speaking from a hospital bed.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2012 A20

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