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Suspected U.S. Spies Targeted

Militants in Pakistan have killed at least 53 people they accuse of providing information.

April 28, 2006|Paul Watson and Zulfiqar Ali | Special to The Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban militants and their allies are waging a dirty war in Pakistan's unruly tribal areas, kidnapping and executing people suspected of spying for U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Militants have killed at least 53 accused spies and pro-government elders in Pakistan over the last two years, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Many of their bodies were found with notes that claimed the victims had visited U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Local residents put the death toll from such executions at about 150.

The headless corpse of the latest victim, taxi driver Khun Majan, was found in a ditch Tuesday near the town of Angoor Adda, a suspected Taliban haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, eight days after relatives reported he had been kidnapped.

"He visited a U.S. forces base in the Birmal area, Paktika province of Afghanistan, and was providing information about mujahedin to our enemies," said a note on his body.

It was not known whether any of the victims were working as informants or spies for U.S. forces.

But secret documents on a memory drive stolen from the American air base at Bagram, north of Kabul, and sold at a bazaar outside its gates, show that U.S. Special Forces apparently used informants in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. The files contained what appeared to be highly sensitive material, including the identities of informants and their families, and some of the information the sources had provided.

None of the informants' names that appeared on the drive sold at the Bagram bazaar, however, matched those of victims killed in Pakistan. And many of the killings predate the files found on the drive.

Abductions and summary executions of people accused of spying for the U.S. or supporting Pakistan's government in the northwestern tribal areas began in June 2004, during an offensive by Pakistani forces against suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, said Pakistani officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Most of the victims were killed in the last year as Afghanistan's insurgency gained strength, mainly in the southern and eastern territories near routes leading into the country from Pakistan. About 85% of the victims are from South Waziristan, a Pushtun tribal area.

The Pakistani government has said it pushed foreign militants from South Waziristan by late 2004. Intense fighting continues in North Waziristan.

Besides the killing of Majan, other recent executions included the beheading of four Pushtun tribesmen between April 15 and April 21 in North Waziristan. All were suspected of being spies.

At first, militants shot their captives on the spot. But more recently the captives have been held for several days, apparently for interrogation, and later beheaded, sources in the tribal areas said. A note is then left on the body that identifies the victim as an alleged spy, in a warning to others not to cooperate with Pakistani officials or U.S. forces across the border.

On Dec. 25, 2004, Shah Alam Khan, the brother of Pakistan's ambassador to the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar and a close friend of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was gunned down by militants in Wana, South Waziristan, according to the Human Rights Commission.

On March 30, five people came to the home of moderate Muslim cleric Maulana Zahir Shah Bhittani, who was staunchly opposed to Taliban and other militants preaching jihad in the tribal areas. The cleric was the principal of a madrasa, or Islamic school, in Lakki Marwat, south of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.

The men knocked on the cleric's door at night and said they needed him to perform faith healing on a patient, family members said. But they overpowered him and forced him into a pickup truck. Two days later, his corpse was found in the Sararogha area of South Waziristan.

A note on his body, written in Pashto, said: "All those who, on the directive of our enemy and in the guise of a cleric, try to propagate against jihad and Islam [or] betray innocent Muslims and misguide people will meet the same fate as Zahir Shah."

The note claimed that the cleric had, "along with some Englishmen, entered an embassy in Islamabad and obtained monetary assistance. He also received some directives from there."

Militants also have recorded on compact discs what they purport to be videotaped confessions of spies for the U.S. in the tribal areas, before beheading them.

On a CD released recently in Miram Shah, administrative center of North Waziristan, a purported spy says an American offered him the equivalent of $3,300 in Pakistani rupees to work on persuading local people to turn against the Taliban.

After recording his message, his masked abductors killed him, chanting "God is great!" in full view of the camera.

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