Image: Family members preparing to bury the body of alleged Taliban militant
Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP
Family members prepare to bury the body of alleged Taliban militant Zahoor Ullah, 30, who was found in an alley in Mingora, Swat Valley district, Pakistan.
updated 8/24/2009 5:39:06 PM ET 2009-08-24T21:39:06

Nearly three months after Pakistan retook the Swat Valley from the Taliban, bloodied corpses are still turning up on the streets. This time, the victims are suspected militants — and the killers are alleged to be security forces.

The army and the police deny the accusations, which the leading Pakistani human rights watchdog says are credible.

The killings are a sign of the troubles still facing the valley, even as U.S. officials cite the offensive — which is now winding down — as a success in Islamabad's campaign against al-Qaida and Taliban militants threatening both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The bloodshed comes as many of the two million people who fled the fighting are now returning to rebuild their lives. Last week, two suicide blasts rocked the main town of Mingora in another deadly reminder of the threat the militants still pose.

15 bodies found Monday
The corpses began appearing several weeks ago, residents say. On Monday, 15 bodies were found in a town east of Mingora, local TV stations reported, although authorities would not confirm that. Another 18 were recovered from different parts of Swat on Aug. 15, authorities said.

The killings are a grim echo of Taliban rule over the valley, when militants dumped bodies of alleged spies or government collaborators on the streets to terrify people into submission. Residents recalled public beheadings and of decapitated bodies being left in Mingora's main square so regularly that it earned the nickname, 'Bloody Square.'

"Previously we were afraid of the Taliban. Now, we're afraid of the army," one man said, standing at the site where the bodies of two people, 35-year-old butcher Gohar Ullah and his younger brother Zahoor, 30, were found last Friday. Like many in Mingora, he would not give his name for fear of reprisals.

About seven hours after their relatives carried the brothers' corpses away, blood was still pooled in the dusty back alley where they were slain. Brain and blood splatter on a wall and wooden door indicated the men had been brought there alive and shot.

"More than a month ago, they were arrested on the charge of militancy involvement," during a police raid on their home, said relative Habib Ur-Rehman, as he helped clean and shroud his cousins' bodies for burial in a small courtyard not far from where they were found.

Four other brothers were taken at the same time, along with their father, Rahim, whose corpse turned up three weeks ago in the same area, Ur-Rehman said, as the women of the family gathered in another courtyard nearby, wailing and crying in grief.

Police and army deny having men in custody
Police and the army in Swat denied having had the two men in custody, or holding their other four brothers or father.

"No, I don't know about them," said Swat District Police Officer Ghulam Farooq Qazi. "They are not in my custody."

But like the army, Qazi said he thought that the bodies turning up on the streets belonged to militants.

"The militants, they did many crimes ... they are fighting each other now," he said. "Another (reason) is, the people who are suffering because of these criminals, they are also trying to take their revenge."

Local residents found the bodies of the Ullah brothers. One man, who gave his name only as Liaqat, said he heard between four and six shots fired at around 4 a.m. Friday, but didn't leave his home due to a nighttime curfew. Other locals gathered at the site nodded in agreement.

Blindfolded with their hands tied
Like many of the corpses discovered on the streets, they were blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, said one relative. One had been shot in the head and the other just below the eye, he said.

"My sons had nothing to do (with the Taliban). They had no fight, they were innocent," said Bakht Begum, the men's mother, as she wiped away tears. "Even my husband had no fault. They killed my husband and my two sons, and now they should release the others."

Militants began asserting their influence in Swat in 2007 — part of a wave of al-Qaida and Taliban expanding their reach from safe havens near the Afghan border. By April, they controlled much of the one-time tourist retreat, just four hours' drive from the capital, Islamabad.

The army launched a major operation in April that it claims killed more than 1,600 militants.

Many village residents still on edge
While the insurgents have undoubtedly been pushed back, their top leadership escaped, keeping many of the valley's residents on edge.

Most Swat residents interviewed said they were unconcerned if Taliban were indeed being killed. They said they felt no pity for those who had sown terror and misery and that the killings might be what is needed to stop the insurgents from returning.

"Look at what they have done to innocent civilian people," said Shahed Javed, a restaurant owner in central Mingora who opened shop again in the past few days. "In such a situation, it's a good thing."

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a recent report it had received "credible reports of numerous extrajudicial killings and reprisals carried out by security forces" in Swat.

"It is vital for the success of the military operation against terrorists that the security forces' actions are distinguishable from the atrocities committed by the Taliban," the commission said. "'Taliban justice' has been rightly condemned for its brutal and arbitrary nature. Treatment of individuals by government must aspire to a higher standard."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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