There are conflicting reports about the death of the dreaded commander of the Lashkar-e-Islam extremist group, which has unleashed a reign of terror in the Khyber tribal region.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police chief said on Monday that they had reports of the death of Mangal Bagh Afridi in a clash – however, the provincial chief minister said that the reports were ‘unconfirmed’.
Mangal Bagh was reportedly wounded in a suicide attack on a mosque in Tirah, a remote valley in Khyber Agency, earlier this month. A political administration official had confirmed that Bagh’s four-wheeler was present outside the mosque when the attack took place – but he escaped unharmed.
The Darra Adamkhel chapter of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is at odds with Lashkar-e-Islam, had claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, saying that Mangal Bagh was the target.
The provincial inspector-general of police said on Monday that Mangal Bagh has reportedly been killed.
“Though tribal areas are not my domain, we have reports that he’s been killed in fighting,” Akbar Khan Hoti told journalists after attending a cricket match in Peshawar. “We expected that he’s dead,” he said without giving details. However, Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti said the reports of Mangal Bagh’s death were yet to be confirmed. “We don’t have any confirmation of his death,” he told the media in Peshawar.
Security forces have been conducting sporadic operations in the Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency against Mangal Bagh and his loyalists since 2009. The 4th phase of the operation, codenamed Biya Darghalam (Here I come again) started on March 12. And security officials claimed to have killed 25 militants since.
Elsewhere in the region, at least 8 people were killed and 15 wounded in clashes between security forces and militants, officials said on Monday.Four militants and one soldier were killed when militants stormed a security checkpoint late Sunday in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan Agency.
The military retaliated with an assault early Monday on suspected militant hideouts outside the town,leaving three dead and 15 wounded, security officials said.
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.