Taliban/Sipah-e-Sahaba militants Saturday (15 May 2010) kidnapped about 60 people in northwest Pakistan, a region beset by militant and sectarian violence, a senior government official said.
The hostages were traveling from Peshawar city to Parachinar, the main town in the tribal region of Kurram, when their vehicle was intercepted by around 40 armed militants, local administration chief Khalid Omarzai, said.
Abdul Rashid, a police official in the nearby town of Hangu, said he had received information that “the number of hostages was 50 plus.”
“They stopped their vehicles and whisked away the passengers,” Rashid said.
Omarzai said the incident took place as authorities were trying to hammer out a peace accord between Sunni and Shiite communities in the area.
“It is an attempt to sabotage the peace efforts,” he said.
The area is a sectarian flashpoint, where Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba militants have attacked Shia Muslims in the past. (An extensive list of articles on Taliban / Sipah-e-Sahaba’s violence against Shias of Kurram Agency can be accessed at the following link: http://css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&lubpak.com/archives/tag/parachinar )
Local MP Mufti Janan told AFP the kidnappers appeared to be from Kurram, where Pakistani Taliban militants are active.
“They have contacted me to convey that some travelers were in their custody,” he said, without saying how many hostages were being held.
“I am in touch with them and hope they will be released shortly,” he added.
Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s Sunni-dominated population. The two communities usually coexist peacefully, but more than 4,000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence since the late 1980s. The sectarian violence has been in the main designed and carried out by the Taliban and their affiliate sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba (also known as Lashkar-e-Jhangavi).
Suspected militants dressed as policemen kidnapped about 60 people in troubled northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border on Saturday, government and police officials said.
Heavily armed militants first seized a vehicle belonging to the government power utility in the Kurram region and kidnapped four people traveling inside. The vehicle was set on fire.
Shortly afterwards, several vehicles were seized from a convoy of civilians traveling to Parachinar, the main city in Kurram.
Officials initially said 30 people were kidnapped but later said 57 people had been taken from the convoy.
“The militants were posing as policemen and wearing police uniforms,” said Mir Chaman, a senior police official in the nearby town of Thal.
Government officials in Kurram confirmed the incident and said efforts were under way to recover the kidnapped people.
The Pakistani military has mounted offensives against militants in their strongholds in the northwest over the past year, largely clearing several areas, killing hundreds of militants and destroying their bases.
A large number of militants, officials say, have fled to Kurram and neighboring regions after the military launched a major operation against them in their South Waziristan bastion near the Afghan border in mid-October last year.
Security forces have intensified air strikes on militant targets in Kurram and adjoining areas in recent weeks.
The militants have shown resilience and carried out a wave of suicide and bomb attacks, mainly in the northwest, killing hundreds of people.
(Reporting by Javed Hussain and Hasan Mehmood; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Paul Tait)