Image: Militants at shrine
AP
Pro-Taliban militants stand before an occupied shrine in Pakistan's tribal area of Mohmand on Monday. Officials sought the help of tribal elders Tuesday to convince the militants to end their occupation.
updated 7/31/2007 11:34:02 PM ET 2007-08-01T03:34:02

Army helicopter gunships and troops repelled a guerrilla raid on a military checkpoint Tuesday, killing at least 15 Islamic militants amid escalated fighting in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

With anger still fresh over the government’s deadly assault on Islamabad’s Red Mosque, 2,000 women and hundreds of men from a hard-line Islamic group rally to declare the “blood of martyrs” will not be wasted.

Fury has surged among hard-liners against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf since the army raid on radicals at the pro-Taliban mosque left 102 people dead three weeks ago. Militants have since stepped up attacks, particularly at the northwestern frontier.

The assault Tuesday by 30 to 40 fighters on the checkpoint near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, was among the most brazen yet. Taliban and al-Qaida militants are active in this lawless tribal region near the Afghan border.

The militants, who traveled in two trucks, were armed with heavy and light weapons. Troops repelled them with gunfire, then called in helicopter support, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said.

“Our forces retaliated and returned fire, and destroyed their vehicles,” he said. Some of the militants escaped to nearby mountains.

He said at least 15 militants were killed and two soldiers were slightly wounded.

In other violence in the northwest Tuesday, two roadside bombs and a rocket attack left 10 security forces wounded, and four others were kidnapped, officials said.

Deteriorating security
The deteriorating security in Pakistan comes as Musharraf faces increasing criticism from Washington that the tribal regions, particularly Waziristan, have become a haven for al-Qaida — which Pakistan denies.

Domestic anger against the military-led government has also grown, particularly among sympathizers of the Red Mosque’s clerics, who had spearheaded an Islamic anti-vice campaign in the capital.

At the sprawling Faisal mosque in Islamabad on Tuesday, about 2,000 veiled women, many dressed in black burqas, shouted support for those killed in the mosque siege and condemned Musharraf. Hundreds of men joined the protest, organized by Pakistan’s biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

“The blood for the martyrs of Red Mosque ... will not go waste!” the demonstrators chanted. “We demand an Islamic revolution!”

Some waved a black flag with crossed swords symbolizing jihad, or holy war, but the protest went off peacefully.

Among the demonstrators were former students of the girls’ seminary attached to the Red Mosque. They accused the army of killing girls and women in the raid — although the government maintains those who died were male militants.

Protester Fauzi Ghani claimed body parts were still being found in the rubble of the Jamia Hafsa seminary. “How can Musharraf escape from the curses of mothers whose daughters were killed in Jamia Hafsa?” she said.

Occupation of Islamic shrine
Meanwhile, authorities were seeking the help of tribal elders to end the armed occupation of an Islamic shrine in the Mohmand tribal region that about 70 pro-Taliban militants have renamed after the Red Mosque.

Television footage showed the militants, some hooded and with gas masks, brandishing automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said the governor of Northwest Frontier Province was “taking appropriate measures” to resolve the situation at the shrine. He did not elaborate.

Cheema also said investigators have found “striking similarities” between two suicide attacks that killed 29 people in Islamabad this month.

He stopped short of saying one group may be responsible for both bombings, but said the devices had a similar “electronic triggering mechanism” and used ball bearings embedded in the explosive.

One bomber struck Friday at a restaurant crowded with policemen, killing 14 people and wounding 60, not far from the Red Mosque. Another suicide attack in Islamabad 11 days earlier hit a planned rally in support of the country’s top judge, whom Musharraf had suspended, killing 15 people.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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