ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Eight tribesmen allied with the government against Al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters were killed in northwest Pakistan, authorities said yesterday.
No one took responsibility for the attacks in the South Waziristan region. But those killed were loyal to pro-government tribal leader Maulvi Nazir, a rival of local Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The government has accused Mehsud of involvement in the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, as well as a string of other attacks.
The army said the eight were killed when militants fired rockets in two separate attacks Sunday night on offices of Nazir's supporters. Local intelligence officials said three tribesmen were killed in the town of Wana, and a second strike in the nearby Shakai village killed five tribesmen and wounded six. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
An escalation in tensions in South Waziristan could spark a surge of violence in a region laden with weaponry where the state has scant control. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistan, a key US ally in its war on terrorism, is under growing pressure to contain the wave of militancy sweeping the border regions, particularly South Waziristan, which is also a staging point for attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Nazir led Wazir tribesmen in a government-backed campaign last year to push Al Qaeda-linked foreign militants out of South Waziristan. The foreign militants, mostly Uzbeks, were banished from the surrounding Wana Valley after the fighting in March and April, which left scores dead.
After the killing of the eight tribesmen, Nazir's spokesman ordered people from the rival Mehsud tribe to leave the Wana Valley by 8 a.m. today.
"If they pay no heed to our warning and remain in our area, they (the Mehsuds) would be responsible for any harm caused," spokesman Lal Wazir told reporters in Wana.
Intelligence officials said Nazir's men killed one Mehsud tribesman yesterday and abducted four in Wana in retaliation for the deadly rocket attacks.
Residents said tensions have been growing in South Waziristan since Mehsud last month formed an umbrella group for various pro-Taliban forces fighting in the tribal regions.
Nazir has refused to join Mehsud's coalition, the residents said, but he has acknowledged that he fought for the Taliban when the group's hard-line regime was in power in Afghanistan.