ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Islamic militants seized a security post in Pakistan's troubled northwest Tuesday, capturing at least 25 police and troops in a raid that underscored the government's weak grip on territory near the Afghan border.
Extremists also killed two security officers elsewhere in the Swat Valley, a day after three intelligence agents died in an ambush in the same area in further blows to the hopes of Pakistani leaders that they can tame Islamic hard-liners through peace negotiations.
Tuesday's incidents came a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani won praise from President Bush, whose administration is pressing Pakistan for tougher action against militants, as a reliable ally against terrorism.
Pakistani officials said the abducted security force was manning a post near Deolai village in Swat when it was surrounded by an unknown number of militants Tuesday morning.
Police said about 30 officers and paramilitary troops were taken away, while an army statement put the number at "as many as 25."
"All personnel manning the post were taken hostage and shifted to some unknown location," the army's statements said.
The army also reported that "miscreants" killed two security force members and wounded 14 as they went to remove a militant checkpoint in another area of the valley where three intelligence officers were killed by ambushers Monday.
Security forces struck back, killing two militants and capturing six in an operation Tuesday, it said.
The military blamed the flare-up on followers of Mullah Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric who last year took control of large tracts of Swat until an army operation drove his fighters out.
A spokesman for Fazlullah, Bakht Ali Khan, claimed responsibility for both the kidnapping at the security post and the ambushing of the intelligence agents.
He said the government was not sticking to the terms of a peace accord struck two months ago, accusing security forces of torturing suspected militants.
"The government is not honoring the peace agreement with Taliban and the government will be responsible for any consequences," Khan told The Associated Press. "We will take revenge for any action against us."
Swat lies in a swath of northwestern Pakistan that has increasingly come under the sway of Islamic militants opposed to Pakistan's alliance with Washington in the war with terrorist groups. Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban fighters from Afghanistan also are active in the region.
Pakistan's 4-month-old government has distanced itself from the policies followed under President Pervez Musharraf, the former army general who waged a series of unpopular military operations in the border region.
However, the government's strategy of offering peace to Pakistani militants who renounce violence in an effort to isolate hard-liners has yet to bear obvious fruit.
NATO blames the peace talks and associated cease-fires for rising insurgent violence in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials worry that approach is giving Al Qaeda leaders believed holed up in the lawless region more freedom to plot another Sept. 11-style attack.
Officials in North West Frontier Province, which includes the Swat Valley, vowed Tuesday to protect the lives and property of people in Swat.
However, they wouldn't say whether they were ready to use force and abandon a peace accord that calls for the release of militants and concessions on their demands for the introduction of Islamic law in return for an end to fighting.
"Once the details are in, then the government's response will be there," provincial governor Owais Ahmed Ghani told reporters in Peshawar.
Pakistani officials were also wrestling with public anger over a suspected U.S. missile strike on a village near the Afghan border Monday.
Officials were investigating whether the attack killed Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Al Qaeda explosives expert with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. The army's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said angry tribesmen prevented troops from examining the site Tuesday.
If confirmed, al-Masri's death would be a significant triumph for Washington and its allies.
However, the incident put the government on the political defensive, with politicians and commentators expressing anger that Pakistan territorial integrity was not being respected.
In an interview with a cable network on Monday, the prime minister said the strike was "certainly" a violation of sovereignty if the U.S. acted on its own.
Gilani said he told Bush that both countries should do a better job of sharing intelligence so Pakistan could fight extremists itself.
However, he gave no indication that Pakistan, whose economic and financial problems force it to rely heavily on billions of dollars in U.S. aid, would reduce its cooperation in protest over the missile attack.