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Mar 25, 2012, 01.42 PM IST | Source: Reuters

Taliban faction claims French gunman trained in Pakistan

PAKISTAN-MILITANTS-FRANCE:Taliban faction claims French gunman trained in Pakistan

By Saud Mehsud

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - The al Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people in France trained with the a faction of the Pakistan Taliban at a camp near the border with Afghanistan, a spokesman for the militant group said on Sunday.

"Mohamed Merah trained with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan," Ahmed Marwat, who identified himself as a spokesman for the TTP's Jandola faction, told Reuters.

"However, we do not have any information on the attacks in France. That is not linked to us."

There was no independent confirmation of Marwat's claim.

Merah was killed on Thursday in a gun battle with police after he killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three soldiers in three separate attacks.

The head of the French domestic intelligence agency has said there is was no evidence Merah belonged to any radical Islamist network.

Investigators are still trying to establish whether Merah had any logistical or ideological support or if he acted alone.

Foreign militants have often found refuge with the TTP, formed in 2007 as an umbrella group of various Pakistani militant factions operating in Pakistan's unruly northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.

Two senior TTP commanders told Reuters that over 80 French nationals are present in North Waziristan, and are members of a largely foreign group of militants called the Jihad-e-Islami. Pledging allegiance to al Qaeda, they work closely with the TTP.

The Pakistan Taliban have long struggled with their choice of targets. Some factions are at war with the Pakistani state while others concentrate on the fight against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

Several offensives by the Pakistani military in the tribal areas have failed to eliminate the TTP and its affiliates. Clashes between soldiers and militants are frequent.

In the town of Wana in South Waziristan, 15 militants were killed and 4 soldiers killed in a skirmish on Saturday between Taliban fighters and the military, intelligence officials said on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by Hafiz Wazir in WANA; Writing by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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