Pakistan launches probe after at least 73 killed

Local residents are seen through the damaged window of a bus at the site of a suicide bombing in Matta
Residents look through the damaged window of a bus at the site of a suicide bombing in Matta, town of Swat, Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border, on Sunday.Str/pakistan / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities on Monday probed suspected links between radicals from the captured Red Mosque and militants in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, where 73 people died in weekend suicide attacks and bombings.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the government was investigating whether the dramatic escalation of violence in the northwest was related to the Islamabad mosque. Sherpao, speaking to Geo television news, did not elaborate.

However, officials have suggested that the mosque’s radical clerics had connections with militants in the North Waziristan region, a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold on the Afghan border.

Officials also have said that several foreign militants were among more than 100 killed during an eight-day army siege of the mosque, but have provided no evidence to support that.

Calls for revenge
The attacks on Saturday and Sunday followed strident calls by extremists to avenge the government’s bloody storming of the mosque and a declaration of jihad, or holy war, by at least one pro-Taliban cleric. Militants in North Waziristan also tore up a peace treaty.

Termination of the pact, the hopeful handiwork of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, puts even greater pressure on the military leader as he struggles with both Islamic extremists and a gathering pro-democracy movement.

The U.S. national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed support but also voiced some criticism of Musharraf’s performance against militants.

“The action has at this point not been adequate, not effective,” Hadley said. “He’s doing more. We are urging him to do more, and we’re providing our full support to what he’s contemplating,” Hadley told Fox News.

$750 million in development aid
The United States said in March it would give Pakistan $750 million in economic development aid aimed at undercutting support for extremists in the northwest. However, it is unclear how the funds, which are to be released over five years, will be spent in a region where the government has little control.

Abdullah Farhad, a militant spokesman who announced the termination of the 10-month-old cease-fire, said Taliban leaders made the decision after the government failed to withdraw troops from checkpoints in North Waziristan. He also accused authorities of launching attacks and failing to compensate those harmed.

The government deployed thousands of troops to restive areas of North West Frontier Province in recent days in hopes of stemming the backlash from the Red Mosque. But they failed to prevent weekend suicide attacks and bombings that killed a total of 73 people.

On Sunday, two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck a military convoy near Swat, while a suicide bomber targeted scores of people taking exams for recruitment to the police in the city of Dera Ismail Khan.

Dera Ismail Khan was put on high alert Monday, with police checking vehicles leaving and entering the city, said Gul Afzal Afridi, a senior police officer.

Since the mosque siege began July 3, 105 people have died in militant attacks, almost all of them in the northwest, according to an Associated Press count compiled from official sources. Among them were 72 members of the security forces.