Pakistan missiles kill militants missile strikes kill militants

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The Independent Online

Pakistani helicopters carried out missile strikes on several buildings in a town near the Afghan border, killing "hundreds" of Islamic militants who had taken them over, according to unconfirmed accounts from residents. The dead include Taliban from Afghanistan and foreign militants linked to al-Qa'ida.

Miran Shah is in the tribal areas, where tribal law applies instead of Pakistani law, and is among the most likely hiding places for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qa'ida leaders. There are no indications they have been involved in the fighting.

Pakistani authorities say at least 119 militants have been killed but residents of Miran Shah say "hundreds" have died. The town, in the tribal agency of North Waziristan, has been placed under curfew and sealed off to reporters by the military, so it is impossible to confirm accounts from inside.

More than 6,000 residents have fled the town, carrying clothes and possessions with them. Residents still inside Miran Shah contacted by telephone claimed Pakistani helicopter attacks had "destroyed" the bazaar. Announcements have been made from the loudspeakers of mosques, calling on people to collect the bodies of the dead.

A government official, Sikandar Qayum, said the fighting had come after militants announced a jihad against the Pakistani government after Friday prayers in Miran Shah.

There are suspicions over the timing of the military operation. President George Bush is believed to have put Pakistan under intense pressure to do more to hunt down al-Qa'ida and the Taliban during a visit to Pakistan at the weekend.

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