Source AP ©

Pakistan militants continue launching attacks taking islamic shrine under control

Pakistan militants took under their control an Islamic shrine in northwestern Pakistan. Supporting a pro-Taliban cleric who opposed the government and was killed in a bloody army siege in Islamabad they named the shrine after the Red Mosque.

It adds to the sense of insecurity in the tribal regions, where President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is already under pressure to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaida. Three soldiers and four civilians died there Monday in the latest violence.

In Islamabad, the government again rejected the possibility of U.S. military strikes and criticized another form of U.S. pressure to do more to crush the militants - a bill that would tie development aid to Pakistan's progress in fighting militancy.

About 70 pro-Taliban militants overran the shrine of renowned Pashtun freedom fighter Sahib Turangzai and its accompanying mosque in Mohmand tribal region late on Sunday, a militant representative and a local official said separately.

They evicted the mosque's caretakers, renamed it and declared their support for Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy cleric of the Red Mosque, who spearheaded a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in the capital. Ghazi was killed in the siege that ended July 12, along with at least 101 others.

The militants vowed to set up a girls' seminary at the site - reminiscent of the one in Islamabad where the anti-vice campaign was centered and that was demolished by authorities after the siege.

"We will ensure education here for students who were dispersed after the operation against Lal Masjid in Islamabad," Khalid Omar, a man who claims to speak for the militants, said in telephone calls to journalists in Peshawar.

A government official in Mohmand, who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, confirmed the militants had taken control of the shrine. He said authorities have sought the help of tribal elders to get the militants to leave the area peacefully.

Meanwhile, at least three security forces and four civilians died in violence in North Waziristan, a tribal region where militants this month pulled out of a September 2006 peace deal with the government.

Pro-Taliban militants have launched a wave of attacks after the army redeployed forces at checkpoints in the region this month. Dozens of people have died, mostly security forces, in the violence.

On Monday, a roadside bomb killed three paramilitary troops near a checkpoint two kilometers (1.3 miles) north of the main town of Miran Shah, an army statement said. Seven suspects were detained for planting another bomb on a troop convoy route but no one was hurt in that attack, it said.

Late Sunday, rockets hit a military camp near Miran Shah, slightly wounding four troops, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said.

Near Bannu, a town bordering North Waziristan, troops fearing a suicide attack shot and injured a civilian who failed to heed an order to stop as he drove toward an army convoy, police official Shafiullah Khan said. Four civilians were caught in crossfire and killed.

Arshad said that militants had opened fire at the scene and security forces had fired back, leading to the civilian casualties.

In the capital, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz sought to reassure his party's lawmakers about reports that Washington might consider ordering strikes on al-Qaida operatives in the tribal areas.

"Pakistan will not allow any foreign forces to conduct activities inside its territory," a government statement cited Aziz as telling the legislators on Monday. "The integrity and sovereignty of the country will be protected at all cost and no outside interference will be allowed."

Separately, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam criticized a bill Congress passed last week tying U.S. aid to Islamabad's efforts to stop militants operating in its territory. It has now gone to U.S. President George W. Bush for final approval.

Aslam likened the bill to the Pressler amendment to the 1985 U.S. foreign aid bill, under which President George H.W. Bush in 1990 blocked sales of fighter jets to Pakistan because of its nuclear program.

"In one sense this bill does remind us of the Pressler amendment and if this happens it would not only be harmful for Pakistan but it would also undermine the U.S. interest," she said.

She said the Pressler amendment had damaged U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Musharraf has been a key ally of Washington in fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but has faced accusations from some quarters of being too closely tied to America.

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