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Pakistani villagers retaliate against Taliban after mosque bombing

ISLAMABAD — Hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen furious over a deadly suicide bombing at a mosque laid siege to several Taliban strongholds in their troubled northwestern region, killing at least 11 militants, officials said Sunday.

The weekend clashes appeared to be the latest evidence of growing anti-Taliban sentiment in U.S.-allied Pakistan, a shift that comes as suicide attacks have surged and the military wages an offensive in the nearby Swat Valley.

The attack on the mosque left 33 worshipers dead and wounded dozens more during Friday prayers, angering residents of the Haya Gai area of the Upper Dir district who have had tensions and minor clashes with local militants for months.

About 400 villagers banded together to attack five villages in the nearby Dhok Darra area that were known militant strongholds, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district coordination officer.

The citizens' militia has occupied three of the villages since Saturday and was trying to push the Taliban out of the other two Sunday. About 20 houses suspected of harboring Taliban were destroyed, he said.

District police Chief Ejaz Ahmad said around 200 militants were putting up a tough fight but were surrounded by the villagers.

The government has encouraged local citizens to set up militias, known as lashkars, to oust Taliban fighters, especially in the regions that border Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban have hideouts.

But villagers' willingness to do so has often hinged on confidence that authorities will back them up if necessary.

Pakistani villagers retaliate against Taliban after mosque bombing 06/07/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 7, 2009 9:58pm]
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