PESHAWAR - Peshawar continued to bleed on third consecutive day as gunmen tossed hand grenades into the house of a slain police officer in wee hours of Wednesday, killing nine men in an attack coinciding with peace talks between the government and Taliban.
The attack came a day after 13 people were killed by a triple grenade attack on a Peshawar cinema which was showing pornography. Earlier in the month another cinema in the city was also hit by grenades, killing four and wounding 31.
Eyewitnesses said that the attackers at around 4:30am entered a house owned by Israr, a brother of a special force member Zafar, in Masho Khel area of Badhabera Police station. They first hurled hand grenades and then jumped into the house. The assailants separated the male members of the family from the females, fastened them with ropes and then shot them dead.
Zafar, a mid-ranking inspector, himself was killed in a shoot-out with militants last Sunday in the same area. A commander of the attacking militants and two relatives of Zafar were also killed in a follow-up operation. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Superintend of Police (rural circle) Rahim Shah said that the militants carried out Wednesday’s attack to avenge the killing of their associate.
“At least nine men were shot dead by militants who stormed into a house around 4:30am firing with automatic weapons and exploding hand grenades,” DSP Fazal-e-Wahid said. DSP Fazl He said they believed the number of attackers was between 30 and 40 who brazenly entered the house by scaling a wall. He said they came from Bara area of Khyber Agency and fled back after the attack.
The killed persons were identified house owner, Israr; his son Sadaqat Shah; brothers Muhammad Haji and Syed Wali; and nephews Yasar and Sabir (sons of Haji), Akhtar Ali and Sadam (sons of Wali), and Rahmat (son of Israr’s another brother named Muqbali).
A man of the same family who served in the community police was killed in an armed attack some 18 months ago, Wahid said. Najibur Rehman, another senior police official, said the gunmen had targeted the family because of their affiliations with a local peace committee.
Despite huge bang of the blast and presence of a number of security check posts on main Kohat road, police reached the spot too late, enabling the attackers to flee without facing any resistance. Furious residents blocked the main highway linking Peshawar with the garrison town of Kohat for some time to protest against the killings. They held the local administration responsible for the incident and said that despite heavy presence of police the militants were freely roaming in the area.
Pakistani Taliban insurgents have been battling for years to topple the government, banish democracy and establish their brand of Islamist rule. On Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s initiative, who wants to negotiate a settlement and stop the fighting, peace talks between government representatives and Taliban are taking place in the capital Islamabad.
Both sides are supposed to refrain from attacks while talks proceed, although there is no formal ceasefire. A government negotiator told a foreign news agency on Wednesday that Taliban had agreed to enter direct dialogue without intermediaries if their safety could be guaranteed.
Many experts are doubtful that talks will succeed - previous deals have all collapsed in violence. Some worry any governing role for the Taliban is incompatible with the country’s laws. Others point out that even if the government clinches a deal with the Taliban, there are many more militant groups that routinely target civilians.
Khyber straddles the Nato supply line into Afghanistan, used by US-led troops to evacuate military equipment as they withdraw by the end of this year. Thousands fled fighting between militants and the military in Khyber in the early months of last year, according to aid groups, though by June the army said it had taken control of all the key strategic heights.