ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen furious over a suicide bombing at a mosque laid siege to several Taliban strongholds in their troubled northwestern region, killing at least 11 militants, officials said yesterday.
The weekend clashes appeared to be the latest evidence of growing anti-Taliban sentiment in U.S.-allied Pakistan, a shift that comes as suicide attacks have surged and the military wages an offensive in the nearby Swat Valley.
The attack on the mosque killed 33 worshipers and wounded dozens during Friday prayers, angering residents of the Haya Gai area of the Upper Dir district who have had minor clashes with local militants for months.
About 400 villagers banded together to attack five villages that were militant strongholds in the nearby Dhok Darra area, destroying about 20 houses suspected of harboring Taliban, said Atif-ur-Rehman, the district coordination officer.
The citizens' militia has occupied three of the villages since Saturday and was trying to push the Taliban out of the other two yesterday.
At least 11 militants had died as of yesterday afternoon, district Police Chief Ejaz Ahmad said. About 200 militants were putting up a tough fight, but were surrounded by the villagers, he said.
The government has encouraged citizens to set up militias, known as lashkars, to oust Taliban fighters, especially in regions that border Afghanistan where al-Qaeda and the Taliban have hideouts. But the villagers' willingness hinges on confidence that authorities will back them up if necessary.
With the army's reporting advances against the Taliban in Swat - an operation that also reaches into the Lower Dir district and has broad public support - that confidence appears to be growing.
Already, military officials say that as they have proceeded with the operation in Swat, residents who have remained in the region have grown increasingly cooperative, providing tips on militants' hideouts and more.