Up to 70 ultras killed in north-west Pakistan

Islamabad, November 1:

Security forces killed between 60 and 70 militant supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric in northwestern Pakistan today, the army said.

Militants attacked law enforcers’ posts in Swat district before dawn, and security forces responded with mortars, small arms and fire from helicopter gunships.

“According to the information I have from police and Frontier Constabulary, between 60 to 70 miscreants were killed in Swat’s areas of Khawaza Khela today,” army spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad said.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into a Pakistan Air Force bus today, killing at least eight men and wounding about 40, the latest in a wave of attacks targeting President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s military-led government, officials said.

The assailant struck around 7 am near an air base in Sargodha, about 200 km south of Islamabad, said air force spokesman Sarfraz Ahmed. All the dead were air force employees, said Sahid Malik, an official at the hospital treating the victims.

Army spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad called it “an act of terrorism.”

The bus targeted was completely destroyed, said Hamid Mukhtar Gondal,

the police chief in Sargodha, adding that investigators sifting through debris scattered across the dusty road collected body parts of the attacker.

Elsewhere, security forces were struggling to contain militants directly challenging the state’s authority and pushing for the imposition of Taliban-style strictures on society.

In the northwestern district of Swat, where recent clashes between security forces and supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric have claimed more than 100 lives, fighting resumed after a two-day lull.

An army helicopter attacked militants yesterday in the Sambad area of the mountainous region 130 km northwest of Islamabad after it came under fire. Eighteen militants were killed, including Commander Tariq, an aide to the hard-line cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, said provincial home secretary Badshah Gul Wazir.

Early today, militants attacked hilltop positions of security forces in the Khwaza Khela area, triggering a gunbattle, said Ali Rahman, a local police official, adding troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery continued targeting militant facilities.