PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Militants ambushed a convoy of prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in volatile northwest Pakistan on Thursday, spraying their cars with gunfire, killing nine people and wounding six others.
The members of the anti-Taliban citizen's group were traveling from the Machikhel area to meet security officials in Bannu district when their three-vehicle convoy was attacked by insurgents, police officer Mohammad Ghani Khan said.
Nine bodies were recovered from the bullet-riddled cars, including at least four tribal elders who had opposed the Taliban in the region, said Ajaz Khan, another police officer. Six people were wounded and hospitalized, he said.
Armed local residents came out of their homes and fought off the Taliban after the ambush, preventing them from finishing off the survivors, Khan said. Security forces later arrived in Khaisur area and joined the gunbattle that still raged Thursday afternoon.
The ambush followed a separate attack by militants who killed two members of another anti-Taliban committee Thursday in the Swat Valley to the northeast. The assailants struck as members of the "peace committee" slept in Sertelegram area, Mayor Mohammad Ibrar Khan said. Security guards fought the militants and killed several of them, although no bodies were recovered.
Local people formed the Sertelegram group last week to protect their area from Taliban fighters who controlled the valley until July when a major offensive by the Pakistani army scattered them.
Pakistan's government endorses such groups, but they have angered the Taliban — leading to attacks.
In a third area, the Kanju district, thousands of armed Swat citizens gathered the Saidu Sharif airport, fearing a possible Taliban comeback and pledging to protect their area.
"This is our effort of self-help and people turned up here with whatever weapon they have from a baton to an assault rifle and pistols ... We will resist militants and guard our area for a lasting peace," Inamur Rehman, head of the Swat National Council, told The Associated Press.
A leader of the private militia, known locally as a lashkar, will be chosen in the coming days, Rehman said.
"This is a welcoming sign that people have risen to protect themselves and guard against the militants," senior army official Brigadier Salman Akber said, adding that security forces would assist the group.
Soldiers killed at least six militants in the nearby the Malakand tribal region during a firefight early Thursday, an official said.
Insurgents ambushed a vehicle carrying Pakistani troops near an Afghan refugee camp, police official Akram Khan said. The soldiers returned fire and killed the six attackers. None of the troops were hurt.