DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Fifteen Pakistani soldiers stood blindfolded, handcuffed to each other on a barren hilltop as one of their bearded Taliban captors held an AK-47 rifle and spoke with fury about revenge.
He left no doubt what would come at any second.
Pakistan’s Taliban abducted the paramilitary troops on December 23 from near the country’s lawless tribal areas to avenge military operations.
Now they have released a video as a warning to Pakistan’s 600,000-member army, which has failed to break the back of the insurgents despite superior firepower and a series of offensives against their strongholds in forbidding mountain regions.
“Twelve of our comrades were besieged and mercilessly martyred in the Khyber Agency (area),” said the militant.
“Our pious women were also targeted. To avenge those comrades, we will kill these men. We warn the government of Pakistan that if the killing of our friends is not halted, this will be the fate of you all.”
Before death, one of the men described how dozens of Taliban fighters stormed their fort in the northwestern Tank district and kidnapped the soldiers.
“They attacked us with rockets, killed a sentry. One ran away. The Taliban entered the fort and captured us with our weapons,” he said, sitting in rows with other soldiers with their arms folded and legs crossed in front of Taliban banners.
“They tied our hands, put us in a Datsun and took us away.”
The video then shows the men standing quietly. Taliban chanting can be heard. “We will cross all limits to avenge your blood,” it said, referring to fighters killed by Pakistani security forces.
One of the men shoves a clip into his assault rifle and fires a few rounds into the back of the heads of a few of the soldiers. “God is greatest,” the Taliban yell.
Other fighters step up and take turns pumping bullets into the men, some wearing green military uniforms. Each time a soldier collapses, the man standing next to him is pulled in that direction by the handcuffs.
The Taliban and Pakistan’s military, one of the largest in the world, have entered exploratory peace talks that raised hopes that their conflict, which has killed thousands of people, could ease, or even end one day.
But the talks have faltered, a senior Pakistani security official told Reuters, and the video — copied to compact discs and distributed in street markets in areas near the porous border with Afghanistan — is likely to enrage the army.
Formed in 2007, the TTP is an umbrella group of 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 army headquarters near the capital Islamabad in 2009.
After the shooting ends in the video, the Taliban militants stare at the bodies slumped over on the earth.
“If the killing of our friends is not stopped, this will be the fate of all infidel armies, God willing,” says one militant.
Majeed Marwat, a commander of the Frontier Corps said morale among his men would always remain high despite such videos.
“Our soldiers enlist because they want to sacrifice for the country. We are taking care of the families of the martyred soldiers,” he told Reuters. (Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Doina Chiacu)