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Students freed from Taliban abductors

PAKISTANI soldiers have rescued scores of students and staff from a military-run college who were abducted by Taliban militants in the northwest of the country, a military spokesman said yesterday.

The abduction took place on Monday as the Pakistani army pressed on with an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, in another part of the northwest.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said the Taliban were taking the kidnapped students to the South Waziristan region, a militant stronghold on the Afghan border, when soldiers challenged them on a road and a clash erupted.

Abbas said the militants had escaped but 71 students and nine members of staff had been rescued. College principal Javed Iqbal Piracha, who was among those rescued, said 10 to 15 students appeared to be still missing.

Taliban fighters seized the students near the Afghan border in North Waziristan.

There are several groups linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida in North and South Waziristan in a loose alliance with the Taliban in Swat.

South Waziristan is also the base of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and officials have said an offensive was expected there after Swat was secured.

Meanwhile, a high court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of an outlawed militant group which was accused of organizing an assault on the Indian city of Mumbai last November, his lawyer said.

India, which urged Pakistan to "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism" after the Mumbai attacks killed 166 people, said it was "unhappy" with Saeed's release.

Saeed was put under house arrest last December after a United Nations Security Council committee added him to a list of people linked to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

His lawyer told reporters the Lahore High Court had ruled his detention illegal.

Pakistan has acknowledged the attacks in Mumbai were launched from Pakistan, and that the sole surviving attacker was Pakistani. It has lodged police complaints against eight suspects but Saeed was not among them.


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