ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Seven people died in Islamic militant attacks on Monday and a mosque and shrine have been occupied in northwestern Pakistan, officials said, as the country struggles to cope with increasing violence.
Pakistan has been hit by a string of attacks and suicide bombings, especially in its tribal areas near the Afghan border, following a military assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, complex in the capital Islamabad early this month.
More than 100 people were killed in that assault and an anti-government backlash has followed.
Three paramilitary soldiers and four civilians died in militant attacks on Monday in the North Waziristan tribal region, military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad told Reuters.
The soldiers were killed “when militants attacked a check-post near Miranshah,” he said, referring to the main town of North Waziristan.
The four civilians died when militants fired on a military convoy at a time when normal traffic was also plying the road, Arshad said.
Elsewhere in northwest Pakistan, Islamist militants have occupied a shrine and adjacent mosque and named the complex after Lal Masjid, government official Muhammad Nasir told Reuters.
Calling themselves Taliban, about 50 masked gunmen took control of the area in Lakarai town near the Afghan border on Sunday.
“They are saying they will construct Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia madrasas (religious schools) for male and female students there,” Nasir said, referring to two institutions affiliated to Lal Masjid.
“We have intensified security around the shrine and mosque,” he said, but he declined to comment on whether any action was immediately planned to clear the buildings.
Lakarai is in Mohmand district, next door to Bajaur tribal agency, a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Militants also wounded one paramilitary soldier on Monday in an attack in Miranshah, using an improvised explosive device. Arshad said seven suspects had been arrested.
Authorities were meanwhile searching for an intelligence official kidnapped at the weekend in Mir Ali town of North Waziristan.
The Waziristan region has long been regarded as a safe haven for al Qaeda and Taliban militants sheltered by allies among the local Pashtun tribes.
Pakistani authorities struck a deal with the local militants last September in a bid to isolate foreign groups and curb cross-border incursions into Afghanistan.
But the militants denounced the agreement early this month and have since launched several attacks on security forces.
The army said it killed at least 54 militants in clashes with militants in several days of fighting that erupted on July 21.
Those followed the deaths of at least 13 soldiers in two separate militant attacks between July 18-20 in North Waziristan.
Adding to the tension, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been under increasing pressure from the United States, an important ally and aid source, to step up action against Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the border areas.
Recently movement of military and paramilitary convoys in and around areas near the Afghan border has become more frequent and check-posts have been reinforced, although the government has not linked the moves to Washington’s demands.
While violence has been heaviest in the northwest, Islamabad itself has experienced two suicide bomb attacks since the Lal Masjid assault, the latest on Friday when 14 people, eight of them policemen, were killed.
Nearly 200 people have died, mostly police and soldiers, in the various bombings and clashes across the country since the Lal Masjid complex was taken.