|Lashkar-e-Islam armed group carried out several attacks against Nato in Khyber region [GALLO/GETTY]|
A Pakistani air raids targeting fighters believed to have been preparing for imminent suicide attacks has killed between 40 to 45 people in a northwestern the country.
“Security forces today carried out a successful operation against militants in the Tirah valley of Khyber Agency,” a senior Pakistani security official told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
“Militant hideouts, a training centre, an illegal FM radio station and eight vehicles prepared for suicide attack were destroyed in air strikes,” he added.
“The air strikes were carried out after intelligence information that militants were preparing to launch suicide attacks in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province during the next week.”
Government sources say that the armed men belonged to the Lashkar-e-Islam group and included fighters who fled last year’s offensive by the Pakistani military in the northwestern Swat valley.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said that, according reports from the area, the military has confirmed that the attacks involved aircrafts and some helicopter gunships of the military.
A local government official said that civilians including women and children had also been hit.
“Many civilians, including women and children, have been killed in air strikes,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named.
Hayder said that “it is not yet clear whether all the targets are militants or whether they may be civilians or tribals as well.”
“This is an area… where in April earlier this year, up to 50 tribals were killed. [The incident] was later investigated [and] the Pakistani military chief apologised when it was found that those were loyalists of the government”.
Lashkar-e-Islam, which means Army of Islam, a grass roots Islamic group with ties to the Taliban, has claimed several attacks, including ones on Nato supply vehicles travelling through Khyber region.
Khyber is on the main Nato land supply route through Pakistan into Afghanistan, where almost 150,000 foreign forces are battling Taliban fighters, now in its ninth year.