ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Security forces blew up the home of a fugitive pro-Taliban cleric Thursday after capturing two militant-held towns in northern Pakistan, the army said.
Security forces faced no resistance in taking cleric Maulana Fazlullah’s complex, which includes a seminary, hostels and a mosque, army officials said. The complex near the town of Mingora was abandoned when about 400 troops and police — backed by tanks and helicopter gunships — moved in.
Maj. Gen. Nasir Janjua said Fazlullah’s home was blown up but the entire complex would not be demolished. “This has been built with the donations from our sisters and brothers,” he said. “The people should decide its usage in the future.”
Fazlullah has called for a jihad, or holy war, against the government.
Troops have swept into the towns of Khawazakhela and Matta since Wednesday in the scenic Swat district, where Fazlullah’s supporters have taken up arms in response to his calls for strict Islamic law. Some of the cleric’s supporters fled before the towns were overrun.
With Swat under curfew, security forces were consolidating their hold on the towns, searching for militants, land mines and booby traps, the army said in a statement. Troops captured four suspected militants, the army said.
Troops have killed more than 230 fighters and arrested 90 other militants in a crackdown in the area since Nov. 24, officials said. Twenty civilians have been killed in the unrest, the army said.
Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S. war against terrorism, has struggled to contain increasing militancy in the north, mainly in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
A recent U.S. intelligence report indicated that al-Qaida may be regrouping in tribal areas, and President Pervez Musharraf cited stepped-up militancy as a reason for imposing a state of emergency in Pakistan on Nov. 3.