LANDI KOTAL: Military helicopters sprang into action after reports about a fierce gunfight between two factions of a banned militant organisation in Tirah valley of Khyber Agency on Saturday. Sources said that Lashkar-i-Islam’s (LI) beleaguered chief Mangal Bagh had fled his base in Nari Baba and had taken refuge in Spin Drand, from where he had reportedly made an appeal through his FM radio for help to his supporters in the Akkakhel area.
The sources said that helicopter gunships had struck Lashkar hideouts in Sandana, Nangrosa and Nari Baba areas in the valley.
Sources told Dawn that four people, including an important commander, were killed in the attacks.
The Zakhakhel tribal force (lashkar), headed by renegade militant commander Qandahar Afridi, made gains against the Lashkar-i-Islam in Bhukarh area after flushing out LI supporters from the Bazaar-Zakhakhel area.
An eyewitness, Sar Zameen, said that he saw four houses, including that of LI commander Khan Zakhakhel, on fire in Bhukarh on Saturday morning, but his family was rescued.
He said that both sides used heavy weapons against each other’s positions.
Khan Zakhakhel, according to some sources, has been injured and taken to an unspecified location after his house was torched.
Sources in Bara said that three people were injured in fighting between the two factions and they were taken to a hospital in Peshawar.
The fighting started after the Zakhakhel tribe raised a Lashkar of at least 1,000 volunteers against Mangal Bagh.
It was also learnt that most of Mangal Bagh’s volunteers in Bazaar-Zakhkhel have already deserted him.
The sources said the Zakhakhel tribe rose in revolt against Mangal Bagh after LI activists allegedly kidnapped a cleric, Maulana Mohammad Hashim, from the Bazaar-Zakhakhel on March 21 and executed him a day later.
The Zakhakhel tribesmen were also enraged over the kidnapping of another rebel LI commander Ghuncha Gul, who had gone missing a month-and-a-half ago after he, along with commander Wahid, Tayyed, Haji Zar Khan and Misri Gul parted ways with Mangal Bagh.
The sources said the loss of Bazaar-Zakhakhel was a big setback to the Mangal Bagh-led LI because it was considered as one of its strongholds after having been ousted from Bara by security forces.
The sources anticipated an alliance of seven Afridi tribes of Bara against Mangal Bagh after the Zakhakhel rebellion against him.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that Ansaar ul Islam, an old rival of LI in Tirah, was also flexing its muscles against Mangal Bagh.