ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan hanged two convicted militants Friday in the country's first executions in years, while warplanes and ground forces pounded insurgent hideouts in a northwest region bordering Afghanistan - part of a stepped-up response to the Taliban slaughter of scores of schoolchildren.
Unchastened by criticism from around the globe, the Taliban threatened earlier Friday to kill more children if executions were carried out as promised.
"We can create a mourning situation at the homes of many army generals and politicians," spokesman Mohammad Khurassani said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.
A key question now is whether attacking children will undermine the sympathy many Pakistanis have for the militants. Analysts say the Islamabad government needs strong public support to continue the fight against insurgents in the northwest.
Many Pakistanis believe the militants are holy warriors taking up arms against Pakistan only because the government aligned itself with the unpopular U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. A network of seminaries and religious schools promote religious hate, and some of their leading clerics command widespread respect in the country.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, a radical cleric in Islamabad, warned in his Friday sermon at the famous Lal Masjid mosque about a backlash in the event of executions.
Aziz expressed his sorrow over the schoolchildren's deaths but also called for ending the operation against the Taliban in the tribal regions of North Waziristan and Khyber. He called the Taliban "our brothers" and warned that if the military continues its bombardment, "there will be a reaction."
But there were signs, albeit small, that this type of speech will find a tougher audience in Pakistan after Tuesday's attack, when militants strapped with explosives broke into a military-run school in Peshawar and killed 148 people - almost all of them children.
A few hundred people protested Friday night outside the Lal Masjid mosque, calling for an end to support for the militants.
"We wanted to also send this message that it's not enough for the government to take action against terrorists but it's equally important that we should also take action against these supporters of the Taliban," said human-rights activist Farzana Bari.
In schools across Pakistan, special classes were held Friday, with schoolchildren chanting prayers in memory of the victims of the Taliban slaughter. In mosques throughout the country, worshipers also offered special prayers for the massacred innocents in Peshawar.
A Pakistani prosecutor said the government will try to cancel the bail granted by a judge Thursday to the main suspect in the 2008 attack that killed 166 people in the Indian city of Mumbai.