Pro-Taliban militants seized control of a shrine in northwestern Pakistan and renamed it after Islamabad's Red Mosque, while seven people died in violence yesterday near the Afghan border, officials said.
The upheaval added to the sense of insecurity in the tribal regions, where President General Pervez Musharraf is already under pressure to crack down on Taliban and Al-Qaida.
The government again rejected the possibility of US military strikes and criticized another form of US pressure - a bill that would tie development aid to Pakistan's progress in fighting militancy.
About 70 pro-Taliban militants occupied the shrine of renowned Pashtun freedom fighter Sahib Turangzai and its accompanying mosque at the town of Lakarai in Mohmand tribal region on Sunday, a militant representative and a local official said separately.
The militants declared their support for the radical leaders of the Red Mosque that Pakistan's army stormed this month after its clerics launched a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in the capital.
As well as renaming the mosque in Lakarai after the Red Mosque, the militants vowed to set up a girls' seminary at the site - reminiscent of the one in Islamabad where the anti-vice campaign was centered.
Authorities demolished that seminary last week after the mosque siege that left 102 people dead and triggered reprisal attacks by militants, particularly in the restive northwest.
"We will ensure education here for students who were dispersed after the operation against Lal Masjid in Islamabad," Khalid Omar, a man who claims to speak for the militants, said in telephone calls to journalists in Peshawar.
Turangzai was a religious and nationalist leader who led Pashtun fighters against British colonial forces, and who died in the early 1900s.
A government official in Mohmand, who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, confirmed the militants had taken control of the shrine. He said authorities have sought the help of tribal elders to get them out.
Meanwhile, at least three security forces and four civilians died in violence in North Waziristan, a tribal region where militants this month pulled out of a peace deal with the government.
Pro-Taliban militants have launched a wave of attacks in North Waziristan after pulling out of the September 2006 peace deal.
Source: China Daily/agencies