Islamabad: Pakistani security forces blew up the headquarters of Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah in the Swat valley as Army attack helicopters and artillery on Tuesday supported thousands of tribesmen hunting down Taliban militants in the troubled north-west.

As anti-Taliban sentiments grew, the Army called on all citizens to rise up against the militants, saying the radicals stand accused of whippings and beheadings in the name of Islamic law in Swat.

The sprawling compound had served as the Taliban’s supreme court and prison, according to officials.The Taliban commander of the Swat valley was targeted thrice by the Army in the ongoing operations, but managed to evade the dragnet. Authorities have published photographs of Fazlullah and his top 20 commanders offering a reward of Rs.50 million for them — dead or alive.

Helicopter gunships pounded the villages of Shatkas and Ghazi Gai in upper Dir, where 200 to 300 Taliban fighters have been trapped by over 2,000 armed tribesmen for the fourth consecutive day on Tuesday, said a military official.

The citizens’ lashkar (militia) which is now spearheading the battle in upper Dir has sprung up over the weekend to avenge the massacre in a nearby mosque which left 40 people dead when a suicide Taliban bomber blew himself up.

Taliban divided

Meanwhile, Tehrik-e-Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud faces opposition from within the insurgent ranks. Qari Zainuddin, the leader of a Taliban faction in South Waziristan, has denounced Mehsud for recent attacks that have killed civilians. “Whatever Baitullah Mehsud and his associates are doing in the name of Islam is not a jihad, and in fact it is rioting and terrorism,” Zainuddin told newsmen.— PTI