KHYBER AGENCY - As many as 14 bullet-riddled bodies of unknown civilians were recovered from Sepah tehsil Bara, sub-division of Khyber Agency, official and local sources informed on Sunday.

The Khasadar sources said on Saturday 14 bodies having numerous bullet wounds and signs of torture were found in Speen Kabr area. One Malik Mehmood was identified as a local tribesman while the rest of the bodies were collected by a local welfare organisation, Khidmat-e-Khalq for identification and burial, locals said. The cause of the massacre could not be ascertained.

The locals accused the security forces of this crime. However, the spokesperson for the security forces denied it saying not a single civilian had been targeted so far in the ongoing operation in Bara.

It bears mentioning here that during the last few weeks, violence has intensified in Bara and dozens of innocent lives have been lost in mortar strikes and targeted killings.

Agencies add: Villagers found 14 bullet-riddled bodies, including the body of the cousin of Peshawar ex-nazim, scattered around the Bara area of the northwestern Khyber tribal region on Sunday, as security forces step up military offensives against militants.

Sunday’s discovery was made two days after 12 more bodies, also bearing signs of torture and numerous bullet-wounds were discovered in the same area, 15 km south of Peshawar.

A government official in Khyber Agency told BBC that 14 bullet-riddled bodies were found from a roadside in Sheikhabad. Among them was the body of Mehmood Malik, the cousin of Peshawar’s ex-nazim Azam Khan Afridi.

“They were taken into custody by the paramilitary Frontier Corps a few days back from Sepah area after unknown people attacked the FC post and killed four soldiers,” a tribesman told Reuters, requesting anonymity because he feared for his safety.

The official told BBC that it was not known who had abducted the slain persons, whom the tribesmen say were locals. However, he said the administration suspected that militants were involved in the incident.

A tribesman, Torab Ali, said all the bodies had had acid thrown on their faces, making identification difficult. “We don’t have any medical expertise but we think they were killed two or three days ago,” he added.

No one has acknowledged any connection with the deaths.

An official for the Frontier Corps (FC), which has taken the lead against militants in the Khyber agency, said he knew nothing about the bodies and that the men were never in the custody of the FC.

“It is possible they have been killed earlier during the military operation and their bodies recovered now,” the official said, who asked for anonymity. “The FC has been conducting military operations against the terrorists in Bara and other areas of Khyber tribal region.”

Another security official who requested anonymity said the operations - conducted since Monday against the banned militant organisation Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) - had killed 25 militants and four troops. Twelve soldiers have been injured.

He said no one had been killed in custody and “any such report is baseless and devoid of facts”.

Fighting in the Bara area of Khyber, which sits astride a strategic supply route for NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, has increased markedly in the past week, with security forces conducting a search and cordon operation.

A curfew was imposed, but security forces’ checkposts and convoys were still being attacked by militants.

Local witnesses said 30 to 35 people had been killed since the operation began. It was not known if that number included those found dead in the last few days.

“We are investigating the incident,” said assistant political agent for Khyber, Bakhtiar Mohmand. “A few people had gone missing the first few days of the operation, we cannot confirm their identities yet.”

The government had asked women and children to evacuate the area and fighters to give themselves up.

This area of Bara is the hometown of militant leader Mangal Bagh who heads LeI. The military and security forces have been conducting sporadic operations in the area since November 2011.

LeI is also fighting the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the area and frequently clashes with the larger group.

Staff reporter from Peshawar adds: As many as 29 militants were killed and 15 others injured when security forces targeted suspected militant hideouts in Kurram and Orakzai agencies on Sunday.

Security forces backed by gunship helicopters and jet fighters targeted Sozai and Mamozi areas of central Kurram and Orakzai agencies. The air strike resulted in the killing of 29 militants and injuries to 15 others. The killed persons also included an important commander of Mamozi Orakzai Agency.

The forces are targeting border areas of Orakzai and Kurram agencies as some of the hideouts of militants are still intact there.

It is worth mentioning here that security forces have been engaged in a military operation in the area for the last three years in which hundreds of militants have so far been killed and hundreds of others injured.

A large number of people have fled the area due to fear of military operation in the volatile parts of the agency and they have taken refuge in Hango and Kohat areas. Some 18,000 people fearing a fresh series of clashes between the security forces and militants had fled their homes in Khyber in October last.

14 bullet-riddled bodies found in Bara