BARA: In a grisly discovery, villagers on Sunday found 14 bullet-ridden bodies scattered around an area where paramilitary troops have been conducting sporadic operations against extremists for over three years now.
The discovery in the Dogra Chowk area of Bara, a subdivision of Khyber Agency, was made two days after 12 more bodies – also bearing signs of torture and numerous bullet-wounds – were discovered in the same area.
Residents told The Express Tribune that the dead men belonged to Sipah, Akakhel, Shalobar and Malik Dinkhel tribes of Bara.
“The men were taken into custody by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) a few days back from the Sipah area after unknown people attacked an FC post and killed four soldiers,” a tribesman told Reuters, requesting anonymity.
Another witness, Torab Ali, said that all bodies had acid thrown on their faces, making identification difficult.
“We don’t have any medical expertise but we think they were killed two or three days ago,” he added.
No one has acknowledged any connection with the deaths.
An FC official said he knew nothing about the bodies and that the men were never in the custody of the FC.
“It is possible they have been killed earlier during the military operation and their bodies recovered now,” the official said, on condition of anonymity. “The FC has been conducting military operations against terrorists in Bara and other areas of Khyber Agency.”
Interestingly, the top civilian administrator in the region said that he was not aware of any such discovery.
“Since I skipped office today, I’m not aware of any such development,” Assistant Political Agent Bakhtiar Mohmand told The Express Tribune.
Another security official, who requested anonymity, said operations have been conducted against the banned Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) since Monday.
He said no one had been killed in custody and “any such report is baseless and devoid of facts”.
However, sources said that most dead belonged to LeI – a claim endorsed by a relative of one of the victims.
“A cousin of my father was also among the dead. He was affiliated with Lashkar-e-Islam,” he told The Express Tribune.
“But he didn’t join the group of his own choosing, he was forced by Mangal Bagh and his fighters to join their ranks,” he added referring to the dreaded LeI chief.
Paramilitary forces have been conducting sporadic operations in Bara since September 2009. The operation, codenamed ‘Biya Darghalam’ (Here I come again), has entered its fourth phase,” said a security official. He said that at least 25 militants and four soldiers were killed in gunfights between March 12 and Sunday. “Four security forces personnel embraced martyrdom and 12 others were wounded in gunfights which left 25 militants dead,” he added.
A local administration official admitted that some people have gone missing during the operation. “A few people had gone missing the first few days of the operation, we cannot confirm their identities yet,” he told Reuters. It was not known if that number included those found dead in the last few days.
Political administration official Ghulam Farooq said the operation was ongoing and a curfew imposed in the area was not relaxed. “Security forces have taken over the Nala area and established a check post in Ibrahim village,” he added.
Hundreds of families have fled fighting to take shelter in neighbouring Peshawar and adjoining areas.
Elsewhere, warplanes targeted suspected hideouts of militants in Kurram and Orakzai tribal regions.
“Twenty-nine militants were killed when fighter jets bombed their bases in the areas of Mamozai, Ali Khel and Toor Simat, in Orakzai, and Ali Sherzai and Masozai area in Kurram,” a security official told The Express Tribune.
(With additional input from Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2012.