PESHAWAR, Pakistan– Taliban militants have shot dead 21 Pakistani soldiers who they had kidnapped in raids on two camps outside Peshawar in the troubled northwest of the country, officials said Sunday.
Around 200 militants, armed with heavy weapons including mortars and rocket launchers, stormed the government paramilitary camps before dawn on Thursday, killing two security personnel and kidnapping 23.
Officials said the bodies of 21 security personnel had been discovered in the wilderness not far from the camps, their hands tied before they were shot. Two others — one wounded and one unhurt — were also found.
The camps are outside Peshawar, the main city of northwest Pakistan, close to the restive tribal areas that border Afghanistan, which are regarded as havens for Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.
“We found 21 bullet riddled bodies of security personnel a short while ago in an uninhabited area,” local government official Naveed Akbar told AFP.
“One was found alive but wounded and admitted to hospital while another managed to escape unhurt.”
Gul Shehzad, another government official, said authorities received information just before midnight that some bodies were lying in the wilderness, within about four kilometers of the camps.
“The hands of soldiers were tied with rope before they were shot,” Shehzad told AFP.
He said Taliban militants had accepted the responsibility for the kidnappings.
In August, the Pakistani Taliban released a video showing what appeared to be the severed heads of a dozen soldiers, after the military said 15 troops had gone missing following fighting with militants in the Bajaur tribal district.
There has been a surge in attacks in northwest Pakistan in the past two weeks, including a suicide bombing on a political meeting in Peshawar on Saturday that killed Bashir Bilour, the second top politician in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, saying Bilour, an outspoken critic of the militants, was assassinated in revenge for the death of one of the movement’s “elders”.
Pakistan has lost more than 3,000 soldiers in the fight against homegrown insurgents but has resisted US pressure to do more to eliminate havens used by those fighting the Americans in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud said his organisation could be open to talks with Islamabad in a video released Friday, but poured scorn on the idea his men would give up their guns.
Mehsud, who has a $5 million US government bounty on his head, said the militant group would consider negotiations with the Pakistani government but only if it abandoned ties with Washington.