Pakistani army helicopters killed around 80 suspected militants on Monday in a dawn attack on a religious school run by a pro-Taliban commander wanted for harbouring Al-Qaeda fighters, a military spokesman said.
Residents said there were children among the dead.
The army said the religious school or madrassa in Chenagai, 10 km north of Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, was being used as a militant training camp.
The strike killed almost everyone present in the madrassa, although at least three wounded were taken to hospital in Khar. “According to our local sources, up to 80 deaths have been confirmed,” Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told reporters.
“The compound has been destroyed,” he said. Residents said they had seen three or four army helicopters flying over Chenagai at around 5 am.
No prominent militant was believed to be in the compound when it was attacked, Sultan said. Security officials said Maulana Liaqatullah, the pro-Taliban commander who ran the madrassa, was among those killed.
Sultan said there were no women or children present. But a witness in Chenagai described villagers wailing in grief as they collected mutilated bodies, some belonging to children as young as seven, from the rubble.
“The bodies are beyond recognition. They are badly mutilated. Limbs were being collected by local people in cloth sheets,” the witness said.
“There were pupils as young as seven who were also killed,” said Syed Wali, a villager in Chenagai.
Thousands of tribesmen rallied in Khar chanting “Down with America,” “Down with Bush” and “Down with Musharraf”.
Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s most influential Islamic party, also condemned the attack.
Party leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed told reporters the slaying of Liaqatullah and his pupils was “brutal and barbaric”, while a senior minister from the party resigned in protest from the provincial government in North West Frontier Province.
A mountainous region that is difficult to access, Bajaur lies opposite Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar, where US troops hunting for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Charles in Pakistan
Britain’s Prince Charles on Monday met Pakistan’s leaders to discuss Muslim-Christian relations and raise the case of a Briton on death row, officials said.
His five-day trip to the country, his first, began late on Sunday and is billed as a bid to boost bilateral cultural, economic and education relations.
During the visit, Charles is also expected to focus on efforts to seek clemency for Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British man of Pakistani origin who is on death row in a Pakistani prison following his convicting in a 1988 killing of a taxi driver.