Pakistan airstrikes and gun battle kill 55 militants
PESHAWAR // Pakistan’s military has killed at least 55 militants in airstrikes and a ground assault as the country enforces a crackdown on Taliban insurgents following an attack on a military school that left 134 students dead.
A court also issued an arrest warrant for the leader of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, who had earlier appeared to defend the Taliban attack.
The military said 16 terrorists were killed and 20 injured when troops raided a hideout in an area adjoining Orakzai and Khyber tribal districts near the Afghan border.
The insurgents had gathered for a meeting but fled after “an intense battle”. Troops arrested two critically wounded militants while four soldiers were also wounded in the battle.
Separately, 39 militants, including two rebel commanders, were killed in airstrikes in the Dhatta Khel area of North Waziristan late on Friday. An ammunition depot was also destroyed, the military said.
In another incident, police said they arrested a Taliban commander wanted for attacks on police and the killing a local journalist in north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The latest offensive comes 10 days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and military leaders vowed to eliminate terrorism in Pakistan. The school shooting, which left a total of 152 people dead, has galvanised support to uproot Taliban militancy that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001.
“The government has made an iron resolve to deal with miscreant elements with a heavy hand,” Mr Sharif said on Saturday. “The government is committed to take all necessary steps to ensure that blood spilled in Peshawar carnage does not go waste.”
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the assault as revenge for an ongoing military offensive against its strongholds in the tribal north-west that the army says has killed 1,700 militants so far.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, has told worshippers the attack was a justifiable reaction to the army’s “un-Islamic” operation.
“O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction,” he told worshippers in a sermon last week, prompting further protests accusing him of being a Taliban sympathiser.
Islamabad police said the warrant against him was issued after he allegedly threatened people criticising him . “Police have received the court order and we are trying our best to implement it,” an officer said.
“This case has no grounds, so we will resist any move to arrest Maulana Abdul Aziz,” said a spokesman for the Red Mosque, which was the scene of a week-long military siege against radicals that left more than 100 people dead in 2007.
* Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg
Updated: December 27, 2014 04:00 AM