Graphic video footage released Monday by the Taliban shows the execution of at least 16 men believed to be Pakistani police officers — a new escalation in the fight for control of a pivotal country in the global war over Islamic extremism.
Seventeen men were executed in total, according to Pakistan’s government.
The video shows a group of men standing in a line in a patch of dirt along a grassy hillside being berated by an individual holding a firearm. Several armed individuals then open fire on the men, who immediately drop to the ground. The gunmen then proceed to shoot the men in the head one at a time.
“Kill the enemy of Allah’s faith,” the lead gunman says in the video. “These all are the enemy of God religion.”
“Shoot him again, shoot him in the head,” the man says to one of the other gunmen. “All right now he is dead.”
“Come here, that one too is still alive,” the man says, scanning the bodies. “Dead? Yeah, okay come here shoot that one too. A bit lower.”
Mir Qasim Khan, police chief for Pakistan’s Upper Dir district, told CNN the men killed in the video were probably those abducted from his region during a June 1 Taliban attack on the village of Shaltalo.
The attack targeted a security check point near the village.
Thirty police officers were killed, and more than a dozen more were kidnapped in the assault, Khan said.
Taliban representatives allege in the video that the executions were conducted in retaliation for the execution of six children by government security forces in Pakistan’s heavily contested Swat Valley. A spokesman for the Pakistani military denied that any such incident took place, calling the claim “absolutely incorrect.”
“It’s wrong, and it’s a propaganda tool,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. “There was no such incident, and Pakistani children have never been executed by security forces.”
The militants responsible for the attack are the same individuals who controlled Swat Valley before the Pakistani army recently cleared the region, according to Abbas.
The video is “quite repulsive, and it shows the complete merciless and ruthless minds of these terrorists,” he said. The Taliban “are quite inhumane, and they use terror as a weapon.”
Taliban extremists “used to terrorize Swat and now they’re trying to bring terror to the Upper Dir region,” he claimed.
Abbas said he believes the executions occurred in Upper Dir.
CNN could not verify the location of the executions or the identity of the victims.
Pakistan is a strategically-important nation in the global war over Islamic extremism. Its location next to Afghanistan has put it squarely in the middle of U.S.-led efforts there.
The Pakistani military has launched more than 10 offensives against violent extremists in northwest Pakistan in recent years, but for the United States, what matters most is North Waziristan, which U.S. officials call a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked militants who attack American soldiers across the border in Afghanistan.
Washington has pressured Pakistan to launch a major offensive in North Waziristan, but the Pakistani military has refused, saying its troops are stretched too thin with other operations in northwest Pakistan.
The army’s reluctance to attack the Taliban in the district has fueled suspicions that the Pakistani military has links to militant groups in North Waziristan that are undermining the NATO operation in Afghanistan.
Pakistani military officials have repeatedly denied the allegations.
The relationship between Pakistan and the United States has been in a downward spiral over disputes about how to pursue counterterrorism efforts, particularly in the wake of the May raid on the Pakistani compound where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed. U.S. officials did not tell their counterparts in Pakistan about the raid ahead of time.
The United States believes Pakistan is not doing enough to go after al Qaeda and other extremists, while the Pakistanis are upset with what they consider to be unilateral steps taken by the United States within their borders.