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Al-Qaeda commanders escape strikes

world Updated: Oct 10, 2008 16:08 IST
Al-Qaeda commanders escape Pak missile strike

A US missile strike targeting a high-level meeting of Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders in a Pakistani tribal area missed most of them by just minutes, security officials said on Friday.

Two missiles hit the house of Pakistani Taliban leader Hafiz Sahar Gul in the North Waziristan district bordering Afghanistan on Thursday night, killing nine people including six Arab militants, the officials said.

"There was a meeting of around 30 foreign Al-Qaeda and local Taliban commanders in the house of Hafiz Sahar Gul but the majority of them left the building ten minutes before the missile struck," a security official told AFP.

"The six Arabs who were killed are all believed to be lower level operatives," the official added on condition of anonymity.

Officials did not immediately give the identities of the targeted militants. But they said that they were not Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Residents said the other three people killed in the strike in the remote village of Tapi were women and children, but there was no official confirmation.

The incident in the lawless district, a known haunt of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, is the latest in a string of attacks on Pakistani soil that have raised tensions between Islamabad and Washington.

Last week around 20 Al-Qaeda-linked militants, mostly foreign nationals, were killed in a suspected US missile strike in Mohammad Khel village in North Waziristan, Pakistani security officials said.

Missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan in recent weeks have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not have missile-equipped drones.

The United States has stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistani territory since a new civilian government came to power in Islamabad in March, and the incidents have become an issue in the US presidential election.

Relations have also been strained by a raid by US special operations forces into Pakistan on September 3 which killed several Pakistanis.