Abducted in 2010, extremists claim the soldiers were killed to avenge the deaths of their comrades and warn of harsher retaliation in future.
The Pakistani Taliban’s Mohmand Agency offshoot claimed responsibility on Sunday for the killing of 23 Frontier Corps soldiers who were abducted from the Shongari checkpost in June 2010.
In a one-page statement written in Urdu, Omar Khorasani, personal assistant to TTP (Mohmand) chief Omar Khalid Khorasani, said: “The FC soldiers were slain to avenge the deaths of our imprisoned comrades by the Pakistani intelligence agencies.” It adds: “We know how to avenge our comrades and if the government doesn’t refrain from its activities, then in future our reaction could be much harsher.” A short video message accompanied the statement.
In the 1 minute 56 second video, Omar Khorasani and former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan discuss the ongoing peace talks, dismissing them as eyewash. “Talks are currently underway with the Government of Pakistan after a long period of war, but we want to make it clear that the government and intelligence agencies do not want to bring peace to Pakistan,” Khorasani tells the camera. “During this dialogue process, the government and intelligence agencies have started killing our friends who are in their custody; 23 Taliban from the Mohmand Agency have been martyred,” he says, adding, “In response, we have killed the 23 FC personnel.”
The claims of responsibility come at a particularly critical time, with the government and the Taliban negotiating a ceasefire agreement as part of peace talks. Khorasani said his group had not yet committed to the peace talks and would decide on it after a meeting of the Mohmand Taliban shura. “After the decision is made we will make it public to the people,” he said. “God willing, we will also soon release the video of the 23 FC personnel.”
The Taliban’s claim couldn’t be confirmed from independent sources. A senior official of the Mohmand Agency political administration confirmed the abduction but was unable to provide any information on the assassinations. “At the moment we aren’t in a position to confirm the incident, as we have no information other than the Taliban statement,” he said, adding: “The incident didn’t happen in the vicinity of Mohmand Agency.”
Shonkrai links Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which has a substantial Taliban presence, to Pakistan. “I think this incident, if it happened, would have happened across the border,” the official added.
A security official, speaking to Newsweek on condition of anonymity, condemned the Taliban’s actions and dismissed claims that anyone had been killed in custody. “The killing of terrorists in custody of security forces, as alleged by the TTP, is a baseless allegation,” he said. “This is mere propaganda to justify their acts of terror.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the “heinous” execution of the kidnapped soldiers, saying it could affect peace talks. “Such incidents have an extremely negative impact on the ongoing dialogue aimed at promoting peace,” he said in a statement. Sharif added that Pakistan could no longer tolerate such bloodshed.
Government negotiators were set to sit down for fresh talks with their Taliban counterparts on Monday but they cancelled the meeting after unanimously deciding it would be “purposeless” following the killing of the FC men.