PESHAWAR, Oct 9: Al Qaeda suspects are moving out of South Waziristan’s Shkai area ahead of a second round of crackdown against tribes harbouring foreign militants, a senior government official said.

The crackdown is targeted at Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. Notices were served on 12 tribesmen suspected of sheltering foreign militants to surrender them or face action, authorities said.

The deadline given to the tribesmen expires on Friday. But officials said they had received reports that foreign elements holed up in Shkai area, some 30km north of the regional headquarters Wana, were evacuating.

Spread over an area of 6619sq-km, South Waziristan is the biggest among the seven federally administered tribal regions and Shkai, a hilly tract with considerable forests, has a population of 15,000 approximately.

“We have reports that foreign elements in that area are moving out. Where are they going? We have no idea,” the official said. “We are developing intelligence to keep track on them.”

He reckoned the militants could head toward either Afghanistan or enter Balochistan.

The official did not know the exact number of what he called the Arab-speaking ‘foreign elements’ in Shkai but said it could be in double digit.

Mohammad Azam Khan, administrator of South Waziristan, acknowledged the report but said his administration was exerting pressure on tribes to hand over those suspecting of sheltering Al Qaeda militants as well as foreigners.

He said his administration would issue international warrants and freeze bank accounts of the tribe refusing to cooperate with the government.

“We are adapting a 19th century law to the requirements of the 21st century. There is great flexibility there,” he said, referring to the British-time Frontier Crimes Regulation that holds the entire tribe responsible for any offence.

He said international warrants would target the particular tribesmen working in the Gulf and the Middle East. The latest action would target Yargunkhel and Utmankhel sub-tribes of the Ahmedzai Wazirs clan, he said.

Locals told Dawn that the tribe at a Jirga early this week had refused to cooperate with the government, expressing their ‘helplessness’ in tracking the wanted tribesmen and seeking more time for the purpose.

Meanwhile, authorities said they had arrested another six Zalikhel-Qarikhel tribesmen to take the tally of arrested tribesmen to 36 aimed at pressuring the tribes to hand over the three fellow tribesmen accused of sheltering Al Qaeda suspects in Baghar village.

Mr Khan said his administration had sealed more shops and impounded commercial vehicles of the tribe under the Collective Responsibility clause of the FCR. “We are keeping up pressure,” he added.

AFP adds: Authorities also suspended special monthly allowances for the tribesmen.

“This operation will continue until tribesmen hand us over the three wanted men,” the administrator in Wana said and added that “if the tribesmen fail to hand over the three men who sheltered Al Qaeda terrorists we will start demolishing their homes.”

“The government in a bid to appease the US is conducting this operation in the name of Al Qaeda,” a tribesman said.

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