US drones kill 16 in missile attack in Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, including Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, today in a strike targeting a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said.

"There were two drones and they fired three missiles," said a resident of Dandi Darpakheil, a village in the North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.

A military official said a house and madrasa founded by Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani were the targets.

Haqqani is a veteran commander of the US-backed Afghan war against the Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s, and his links with bin Laden go back to the late 1980s.

He is said to be in ill-health and his son, Sirajuddin, has been leading the Haqqani group.

The missile strike killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

"They belonged to Sirajuddin Haqqani group," said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"No foreign militant was killed," he added, although a junior intelligence official had said earlier that Uzbek and Arab militants had been staying in the school complex.

One of Haqqani's younger sons said his father and brother, also a militant, were nowhere near when the attack took place.

"Haqqani and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan at the time of the attack. They are alive," Badruddin, the commander's third son, told Reuters by telephone.

Fifteen to 20 wounded people, most of them women and children, had been taken to hospital in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, doctors said.

Badruddin said one of his aunts had been killed in the attack on the family home. He said six missiles had struck the house, which the family had owned for 30 years.

Residents said militants cordoned off the bombed site.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said an "incident" had taken place and its cause was being ascertained.

U.S.-led forces recently stepped up cross-border attacks against al-Qa'ida and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal areas.

Helicopter-borne commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last Wednesday, the first known incursion into Pakistan by US troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials said 20 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack which drew a furious response from the government and stoked anti-American sentiment.

A day later, four Islamist militants were killed and five wounded in a suspected US drone attack in North Waziristan.

Security officials said five people were killed in another drone attack on Friday, but the Pakistan military denied it.

Anger over the US commando raid and repeated territorial violations prompted the government to partially block supply lines to Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan on Saturday.

Rehman Malik, the top Interior Ministry official, said on Monday the road was unblocked after a few hours, and that it had only been shut for security reasons, contrary to earlier comments by the defence minister that it was a response to the violations.