A senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban said Monday that he is splitting from the group to protest attacks against civilians, a rare criticism of the militants by one of their own.

Fazal Saeed said he is forming his own militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Islami, and will focus on fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, is mainly focused on battling the U.S.-allied Pakistani government.

Saeed, leader of the Pakistani Taliban in the Kurram tribal area near the Afghan border, accused the group of targeting civilians in suicide attacks and bomb blasts in mosques.

We have repeatedly protested over killing unarmed and innocent people in these attacks, but no heed was paid, so we are splitting from Tehrik-e-Taliban" Pakistan, Saeed told The Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban often deny responsibility for attacks that kill large numbers of civilians, but they are widely believed to carry them out.

It's unclear whether Saeed's decision to split from the group is related to plans by the Pakistani army to launch a military offensive soon in Kurram. The army has cut deals in the past to avoid targeting groups who fight in Afghanistan as long as they agree not to attack Pakistan.

Saeed is believed to be a close ally of the Haqqani network, which the U.S. military believes is the most dangerous militant group battling foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Local tribesmen said late last year that the Haqqani network cut a deal with Shiite Muslim militias in Kurram to allow the militants to cross through the area on their way to fighting in Afghanistan.

The route would help them avoid deadly U.S. drone attacks that have rained down on the North Waziristan tribal area, their main stronghold.

But the route is not entirely free of risk. Suspected U.S. drones launched rare missile attacks against a vehicle and a house earlier this month in an area of Kurram reportedly dominated by Saeed, killing 12 people, including at least seven suspected militants, Pakistani officials said.