- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2011

 

PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — Gunmen ambushed a van and killed nine civilians Sunday in a stretch of northwestern Pakistan covered by a new peace deal among tribes from rival Muslim sects. Security forces responding to the attack killed three alleged gunmen, police said.

The clash does not bode well for the future of the peace deal in the Kurram tribal region, which stopped a four-year conflict that had cost hundreds of lives. There have been reports that Taliban militants planned to take advantage of the deal to gain more territory along the Afghan border.

Police official Mir Chaman Khan said the attack occurred in Hangu district along the main road from Kurram to Peshawar. The road recently was reopened after the Shi’ite Muslim Toori and Bangash tribes inked the deal with the Mangal and other Sunni Muslim tribes.

The clash occurred in a Sunni-dominated area. The van was coming from Parachinar, a Shi’ite-dominated town in Kurram.

Mr. Khan declined to speculate on who was behind the attack.

Pakistan‘s tribal belt is a hotbed of Islamist militant groups, many linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network. The Pakistani army has launched offensives in several areas, and the United States has fired hundreds of missiles at suspected militants using unmanned aircraft in the region.

The Taliban, who adhere to a hard-line interpretation of Sunni Islam, have at times exploited sectarian and tribal feuds to spread their influence along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

But tribesmen in Kurram also have reported that the Haqqani network, a fiercely independent branch of the Afghan Taliban and a major enemy of U.S. and NATO forces, had cut a deal with the Shi’ites so it could use Kurram as a staging ground for fighting in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a suspected U.S. missile strike missed a target in Azam Warsak, South Waziristan.

A missile landed near a car carrying militants, who managed to flee before another missile hit the vehicle, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with media on the record.

Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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