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Pakistani villagers hit Taliban strongholds

HUNDREDS of Pakistanis banded together and attacked Taliban strongholds in a troubled northwestern region, killing 11 militants, to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a local mosque, officials said yesterday.

The incident on Saturday underscores a swing in the national mood against the Taliban - as suicide attacks have surged and the military wages an offensive in the Swat Valley.

Some 400 villagers from the neighboring Upper Dir district, where a suicide bomber killed 33 worshippers at a mosque in the Haya Gai area on Friday, formed a militia and attacked five villages in the nearby Dhok Darra area, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district coordination officer.

The citizens' militia has occupied three of the villages since Saturday and is trying to push the Taliban out of the other two. Some 20 houses suspected of harboring Taliban were destroyed, he said.

At least 11 militants were killed, said the district police chief, Ejaz Ahmad.

The government has encouraged local citizens to set up militias, known as lashkars, to oust Taliban fighters.

"It will discourage the miscreants," Rehman said.

Ahmad said about 200 militants were putting up stiff resistance in their strongholds surrounded by the villagers. "We will send security forces, maybe artillery too, if the villagers ask for a reinforcement," he added.

The surge in suicide attacks reached Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on Saturday when a man wearing an explosive-laden jacket attacked a police compound but was shot down before he could enter the main building. Two officers died and six were wounded, police said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it fit with a Taliban threat of strikes in major cities across Pakistan in retaliation for the military's month-old offensive in Swat.

Yesterday, police in the southern city of Karachi said they averted a suicide attack by arresting a would-be bomber allegedly linked to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Several explosives and bomb-laden jackets were found during the raid, senior police official Javed Bukhari said.


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