Taliban militants behead Sikh in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Taliban militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt kidnapped and beheaded a Sikh after relatives failed to pay ransom for his release, an official and a Sikh community member said Monday.

Jaspal Singh was one of three Sikhs abducted in Bara, a town in Khyber district, in late January, an administrative official told AFP by telephone from the area on the Afghan border.

His body was found on Sunday in the neighbouring tribal district of Orakzai.

"Militants later handed over the dead body to his relatives," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

New Delhi condemned the "barbaric act", which came just days before India and Pakistan are to resume dialogue for the first time since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which suspended peace talks between the arch rivals.

"All issues concerning the relations between the two countries, depending upon time permitting, will be taken up," External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters in New Delhi.

A senior member of the Sikh community in Pakistan's northwestern capital Peshawar said two other Sikhs were still in captivity.

"The Taliban gave an ultimatum of February 20 to pay the ransom. They killed him on the same day," he told AFP on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.

Sikhs and Hindus are tiny communities in Pakistan. In the last year, hundreds have fled their homes after receiving death threats from the Taliban and other militant groups in the increasingly unstable northwest.

Most Sikhs and Hindus living in Khyber pay annual protection to local militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, the Sikh community member said, blaming the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the beheading.

"This is a matter of money. Now Taliban are also demanding that we pay money," he told AFP.

TTP has become the most dangerous militant group operating in Pakistan, where a wave of suicide and bomb attacks carried out by Islamist militants have killed more than 3,000 people since July 2007.