Pakistani Taliban say kill 15 soldiers, vow further "revenge"
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban have killed 15 kidnapped troops in revenge for military operations against them near the Afghan border, a Taliban spokesman said Thursday, vowing further such violence.
Local officials confirmed that 15 bodies, with gunshot wounds and telltale signs of torture, had been found in the Thal area of the northwestern Hangu district, near the unruly northwestern tribal areas along the porous border.
Pakistani forces have targeted militants in the northwestern Khyber tribal region on and off for more than four years.
"This is revenge for the killing of our comrades in Khyber by Pakistani forces," Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told Reuters.
"We will soon take revenge for other operations too."
The Pakistani soldiers were kidnapped on Dec 23 when dozens of Taliban militants stormed a paramilitary fort in the northwestern Tank district.
Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban released 17 boys they had kidnapped in September last year from the northwestern Bajaur tribal region near the Afghanistan border. The boys belong to a pro-government tribe.
Formed in 2007, the TTP is an umbrella group of various Pakistani militant factions operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Allied with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, it pledged to overthrow the Pakistani government after the military started operations against militant groups.
It is blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country and has carried out audacious attacks, including one on the Pakistan army headquarters near the capital Islamabad in 2009.
The United States has labeled the TTP a terrorist group.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Haji Mujtaba in MIRANSHAH, Sahibzada Bahauddin in BAJAUR, and Ali Afzaal in PARACHINAR; Writing by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Nick Macfie)