Armed men kidnap a senior judge in Pakistan’s restive northwest

This is a locator map for Pakistan with its capital, Islamabad, and the Kashmir region. (AP Photo)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Armed men ambushed and kidnapped a senior judge in Pakistan’s restive northwest, a police official said Sunday.

Around 15 men on motorbikes intercepted Judge Shakirullah Marwat’s vehicle as he was traveling toward Dera Ismail Khan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said police official Faheem Khan. The assailants set the car on fire before fleeing with him. The driver was not ­harmed, Khan said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday evening’s assault, but a video distributed by counterterrorism officials Sunday showed the judge saying that the militant Pakistani Taliban group, or TTP, would not release him until their demands were met. It was unclear if Marwat was speaking under duress.

It’s unusual for militants in the northwest to target a judge of Marwat’s seniority, who normally travels with tight security. They have generally attacked security personnel or infrastructure.

In the video, Marwat assured his family that he was well. He appealed to the Supreme Court, other judges and the provincial government to meet the demands of the TTP to ensure his swift release. He did not say what the group's demands were.

Marwat was shown on the video sitting outside and cross-legged on a checkered blanket with a dark gray sheet as a backdrop. He addressed the camera directly, although there were moments when he appeared to be making eye contact with other people. Male voices can be heard in the background.

Khan said a search operation had been launched for the judge and a counterterrorism team had joined the investigation.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in violence, mostly blamed on the TTP, since the group unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the central government in November 2022.

Last weekend, gunmen opened fire at customs officials, killing two and wounding three others in Dera Ismail Khan.