AFP - Taliban militants on Thursday assumed control of a district in Pakistan about 100 kilometres from the capital, patrolling streets and markets, officials and witnesses said.
Hundreds of armed fighters have set up checkpoints and occupied mosques in Buner district northwest of Islamabad, sparking global concern and posing what Washington has called an "existential threat" to the nuclear-armed nation.
The militants entered Buner, 110 kilometres (70 miles) from the capital, from the Swat valley, where Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has signed a deal allowing Islamic sharia courts in a bid to end deadly extremist violence.
"Taliban are patrolling the streets in Buner," local police official Rasheed Khan told AFP.
He said local government officials were in talks with the Taliban to put an end to the militant occupation.
"We hope that they will stop patrolling soon," he said.
A Taliban commander said they would set up strict Islamic sharia courts in Buner as they have already done in Swat but would not interfere with police work.
"They (Taliban) have unleashed a reign of terror in Buner and set up their checkpoints," a local politician and former provincial lawmaker, Karim Babak, told AFP.
"This situation has triggered a great deal of panic among the local population."
Pakistan's central government lost control in Swat, a former ski resort and jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, after a violent two-year militant campaign to enforce strict sharia law.
It agreed to allow sharia courts in Malakand, a district of some three million people in North West Frontier Province that includes the Swat valley, in order to halt the violence.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Taliban advances posed "an existential threat" to Pakistan and urged Pakistanis worldwide to oppose the deal.