Thursday, February 28, 2008

Missile Strike on Pakistan Madrassa Kills 13

AFP - A suspected US missile strike destroyed an Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideout in a Pakistani tribal area Thursday, killing 13 alleged militants including several Arabs, security officials said.

Residents of Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan told AFP that a house was blown up by a missile fired from a pilotless drone and the loud blast was heard miles (kilometres) away in the rugged valley.

US drones have launched several strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border targeting members of Osama bin Laden's network, although Islamabad never confirms such attacks due to issues of national sovereignty.

The attack comes a month after Bin Laden's operational number three, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a missile strike on January 29 in the neighbouring Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.

"A house used as a den by Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants was hit by a missile. Thirteen people were killed and around 10 were wounded," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP.

"There was no immediate information about the presence of any high-value target," the official said.

A security source based in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which adjoins the lawless tribal belt, said the missile was fired by a US drone at about 2:00 am Thursday (2100 GMT Wednesday).

Another security official said most of the dead were Arabs.

Armed militants cordoned off the site after the missile strike, residents said. They said four unidentified "guests" had arrived late Wednesday at the destroyed house, although their identities were not known.

South Waziristan is also the base of Baitullah Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda-linked warlord accused by Pakistan of masterminding the slaying of former premier Benazir Bhutto, but officials said the strike was not in the area he commands.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition force based in Afghanistan said it had "no reports" that either it or the separate NATO-headed force were involved in the strike.

Pakistani forces were not immediately available to comment on the incident.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan does not confirm US involvement in military action in the tribal belt, as Islamabad has repeatedly stated that it will not allow foreign forces to operate on its soil.

But US forces have carried out several strikes in the past.

Amid pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on Al-Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan, the New York Times reported last week that US officials recently reached a "quiet understanding" with him to intensify such strikes.

The new arrangements included attacks by armed Predator drones operating from a secret base inside Pakistan, rather than Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda number two Ayman Al-Zawahiri vowed to avenge the missile strike that killed al-Libi in a videotape message broadcast on an Islamist website on Wednesday.

"No chief of ours has died a natural death. Nor has our blood been spilled without a response," he said in the 10-minute recording which had English subtitles and was posted on the Al-Ekhlaas website.