| Uzbek militant Tahir Yuldashev. (AFP)
Wana, March 27 (Reuters): Pakistan condemned today the “cold-blooded murder” of eight soldiers executed after being ambushed while battling militants near the Afghan border.
The soldiers, their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head at point-blank range, were found in a ditch yesterday near Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan area in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal territories.
“It was a cold-blooded murder,” said Major-General Shaukat Sultan, the army’s spokesman. “We have identified the local and foreign militants and now we are chasing them.”
“It was the worst kind of terrorism,” he said.
More than 100 people have been killed since March 16 when paramilitary forces hunting militants linked to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden ran into a hail of bullets as they approached a suspect’s house in the rugged South Waziristan region.
The battle, involving 5,000 troops, is Pakistan’s biggest in the region and comes after Musharraf narrowly escaped two assassination attempts in December.
Pakistan, while supporting the US war on terror, had come under pressure for not doing enough to root out militants from its remote border mountains. The military said the operation in South Waziristan was in its final stages and its objectives had been largely achieved.
“A hardened den of miscreants has been completely dismantled,” the military said in a statement, adding that more than 160 suspected militants had been detained and a large quantity of arms and other equipment seized.
“Intelligence sources and other information gathered from those apprehended during the operation indicate that over 60 miscreants have been killed, while scores of them have been injured since March 16.”
Uzbek leader hurt
The military said sources have confirmed that among those injured was Tahir Yuldashev, who it identified as “one of the top al Qaida leaders”.
Yuldashev is the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and was accused of a series of bomb blasts in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in 1999. He was known to have taken refuge in the semi-autonomous Pakistani tribal areas.
Earlier, interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said four wanted Pakistani tribesmen, accused of giving shelter to the foreign militants in South Waziristan, had been arrested.
The eight soldiers were likely killed shortly after their convoy was ambushed on Monday, an army official said. Twelve other soldiers were killed in the ambush.