KHAR, Pakistan – A Taliban spokesman on Tuesday warned Pakistan's government to end a military crackdown against insurgents in a restive northwestern mountain valley or face homicide bombings.
Maulvi Umar said the government has run out of time and must stop the current military operation in the Swat Valley, where the army says bloody clashes this week have left 125 dead.
"Our ultimatum has ended. Now they have made a strike and it is our turn to strike whether it will be tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or whenever," Umar told a news conference in a village mosque in Bajur tribal region bordering Afghanistan guarded by more than 100 heavily armed militants.
Umar is spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of militant groups led by Baitullah Mehsud, the country's top Taliban leader.
Umar spoke jointly with Maulana Faqir Mohammed, a cleric who is suspected by Pakistani intelligence of ties with Al Qaeda No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
In comments apparently intended to reflect public enthusiasm for the Taliban's armed struggle, Mohammed claimed they have received requests from a large number of women to be trained for homicide attacks.
The violence has erupted in Swat despite a peace agreement between a pro-Taliban cleric, Mullah Fazlullah, and the provincial government reached in May.
Under the pact, militants agreed to recognize the government's authority and halt attacks in return for the release of prisoners and government concessions on implementation of Islamic law.
Umar accused the government of violating the accord. He threatened homicide bombings and other attacks targeting the government and senior officials.
A provincial government spokesman was not immediately available to comment on the militant threat.
Authorities say more than 60 girls schools have been set on fire in recent weeks and security forces attacked. On Saturday, nine police and paramilitary troops were killed in a bombing on a bridge.
Many observers say the lull in hostilities that followed the May peace deal has allowed militants who were targeted in a major military offensive late last year to regroup.
The army said Tuesday that since the latest security operation began July 30, 11 troops, 20 civilians and 94 militants have died. It was not possible to confirm that toll independently.
Meanwhile in Bajur, a clash between security forces and militants left one paramilitary soldier dead Tuesday.
The shootout broke out after troops resisted militants who were trying to occupy a security post in Arrang, a village east of the region's main town of Khar, said Fazal Rabi, a local senior security official.