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Officials: Militant Ambush Kills 18 in NW Pakistan


Pakistani soldiers patrol along a road in northwestern Kurram tribal district, close to the Afghan border, 06 Jul 2010

Pakistani soldiers patrol along a road in northwestern Kurram tribal district, close to the Afghan border, 06 Jul 2010

Pakistani officials say suspected militants attacked a civilian convoy of vehicles in northwestern Pakistan Saturday, killing at least 18 people, including two women.

Pakistani authorities say the ambush occurred Saturday in the Kurram tribal region, which borders Afghanistan.

Security forces were escorting the civilian convoy to northwestern Pakistan's main city of Peshawar.

Retired Brigadier General Mahmood Shah used to be the security chief for Pakistan's tribal regions. He tells VOA that the roads out of Kurram are dangerous, mainly due to ongoing military offensives targeting nearby Taliban militant strongholds.

"The problem here is that on one side you have the Orakzai agency and on the other side you have the North Waziristan agency. And the government's efforts are to complete the operation in the Orakzai agency. And the last three or four days it has been making a very focused effort and that's why we thought it'd be safe now," he said.

Officials say they suspect the incident might have been an example of sectarian violence since the victims were all Shi'ite Muslims.

Khalid Aziz, a former senior government official in northwestern Pakistan, explains that sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims is nothing new for the country's tribal belt.

"The background to this, I mean, it goes back to the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran at one time. And this became a proxy war, in this part of Pakistan. And it is one of those things which is still continuing," he said.

Aziz says that during times of increased sectarian violence, Shi'ites face a difficult journey out of Kurram.

"There is one road only coming from Kurram to Kohat, and it is surrounded by the Sunni tribes," he explained.

He says that during the past four years, Taliban militants and what he calls other terrorist groups have sought to worsen the situation, causing many Shi'ites from Kurram to travel deeper in Pakistan via a more roundabout way into Afghanistan and even buying their basic goods from Afghanistan.

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