Image: Tribal elders attacked in Pakistan
Ijaz Mohammad  /  AP
People unload victims of a Taliban attack at a local hospital in Bannu, Pakistan, on Thursday.
updated 9/24/2009 11:51:17 AM ET 2009-09-24T15:51:17

Militants ambushed a convoy of prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in volatile northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, spraying their cars with gunfire and killing nine people, police said.

The members of the anti-Taliban citizens' group were traveling from the Machikhel area to meet security officials in Bannu district when their three-vehicle convoy was attacked by insurgents, police officer Mohammad Ghani Khan said.

Pakistani authorities have urged tribal elders to speak out against the Taliban, and in turn the militants have killed scores of local leaders. With government backing, some elders have raised militias, known as lashkars, to battle the insurgents. The militias have been compared to Iraq's Awakening Councils, which helped U.S. forces turn the tide against al-Qaida there.

Nine bodies were recovered from the bullet-riddled cars, including at least four tribal elders who had opposed the Taliban in the region, said Ajaz Khan, another police officer. Six people were hospitalized with injuries, he said.

Locals, security officers join fight
Armed local residents came out of their homes and fought off the Taliban after the ambush, preventing them from killing the survivors, Khan said. Witness Inayatullah Khan said tribesmen killed two militants in the gunbattle. Security forces later arrived in the Khaisur area and joined the fight.

The ambush followed a separate attack by militants who killed two members of another anti-Taliban committee Thursday in the Swat Valley to the northeast.

The assailants struck as members of the "peace committee" slept in the Sertelegram area, Mayor Mohammad Ibrar Khan said. Security guards fought the militants and killed several of them, although no bodies were recovered, he said.

Local people formed the Sertelegram group last week to protect their area from Taliban fighters who controlled the valley until July, when a major offensive by the Pakistani army scattered them.

Local militias anger Taliban
The formation of militias has angered the Taliban, leading to deadly attacks.

In a third area, the Kanju district near Swat's main town, Mingora, thousands of armed citizens gathered at the Saidu Sharif airport, fearing a possible Taliban comeback and pledging to protect their area.

"This is our effort of self-help and people turned up here with whatever weapon they have from a baton to an assault rifle and pistols. ... We will resist militants and guard our area for a lasting peace," Inamur Rehman, head of the Swat National Council, told The Associated Press.

A leader of the private militia will be chosen in the coming days, Rehman said.

"This is a welcome sign that people have risen to protect themselves and guard against the militants," senior army official Brigadier Salman Akber said, adding that security forces would assist the group.

Soldiers killed at least six militants in the nearby Malakand region during a clash early Thursday, police said.

Insurgents ambushed a vehicle carrying Pakistani troops near an Afghan refugee camp, police official Akram Khan said. The soldiers returned fire and killed the six attackers, he said. None of the troops was hurt.

The military said in a statement that 10 suspects were arrested in operations over the past 24 hours and 15 militants surrendered to security forces.

More on: Pakistan | Taliban

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Video: Taliban ambush kills Pakistan tribal leaders

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