Pakistan mosque blast prompts attack on Taliban

Deadly suicide bombing at a local mosque bands together hundreds of Pakistanis to attack Taliban strongholds.

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ISLAMABAD // Hundreds of Pakistanis banded together to attack Taliban strongholds in a troubled north-west region to avenge a deadly suicide bombing at a local mosque, a top government official said. The incident underscored a swing in the national mood toward a more anti-Taliban stance, a shift coupled with a recent surge in suicide attacks as the military wages an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

Some 400 villagers from Upper Dir district's Haya Gai area, where a suicide bomber killed 33 worshippers at a mosque on Friday, formed a militia and attacked five villages in the neighbouring Dhok Darra area, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district co-ordination officer. The citizens' militia has occupied three of the villages and is trying to push the Taliban out of the other two. Some 20 houses suspected of harbouring Taliban were destroyed, he said. At least four militants were killed.

The government has in the past encouraged local citizens to set up militias, known as lashkars, to oust Taliban fighters. "It is something very positive that tribesmen are standing against the militants. It will discourage the miscreants," Mr Rehman said. The surge in suicide attacks reached Pakistan's capital late 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 others were wounded, police said.

The assault fit with a Taliban threat made 10 days earlier that militants would strike major cities across Pakistan in retaliation for the military's month-old offensive. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack at the police emergency response centre in a residential Islamabad neighbourhood. Waquar Shah, an officer on duty at the centre when it was attacked, said a man wearing a heavy jacket was spotted as he jumped over a wall at the centre into a courtyard.

"He jumped in from the rear wall, then ran toward the offices," Mr Shah said. "One of our guys opened fire on him and he fell and blew up." Senior police commander Tahir Aalam said two officers were killed and six others were wounded. The offensive in Swat is seen as a test of Pakistan's resolve to take on militants challenging the government in the region bordering Afghanistan. More than 1,300 militants and 105 soldiers have died so far during the offensive, the military says. The US supports the Swat offensive, hoping it will eliminate a potential sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban militants implicated in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.

* AP