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US missile kills 20 in Pakistan

Pakistani villagers collected the corpses and body parts of at least 20 people, including several suspected Arab militants, killed by a US missile strike overnight.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2008 23:13 IST
Haji Mujtaba

Pakistani villagers collected the corpses and body parts on Saturday of at least 20 people, including several suspected Arab militants as well as three children, killed by a US missile strike overnight.

A pilotless drone aircraft launched the attack late on Friday, targetting a tribesman’s house in Mohammad Khel, a village, 30 km west of Miranshah in North Waziristan, a known sanctuary of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants close to the Afghan border.

Villagers combed the wreckage at daybreak, looking for survivors and bodies to be buried. “We found body parts scattered all over the place in the ruins, someone’s hand, someone’s leg,” Bakht Ali, one of the villagers, told Reuters.

An intelligence official based in the region said a woman and three children were among those killed.

“We now have a figure of 20 dead. That includes eight residents of the house, five other locals and seven foreigners,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The foreigners appeared to be Arabs, although their nationalities were unknown, he said. There were no indications that any of those killed were regarded by US counterterrorism agencies as top tier Al Qaeda targets, sources said.

The News newspaper reported that the strike was carried out based on information that the foreigners had been invited to a feast by pro-Taliban tribesmen following the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramzan.

An army spokesman said there had been an explosion in the area, but was unable to confirm the cause.

Shooting at drone

Faced with an intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, US forces in the past month have carried out eight missile strikes by pilotless drones and a commando raid on the Pakistani side of the border.

Tribesmen in Mir Ali, a town 25 km east of Miranshah, fired at a US drone on Saturday before it turned away. A US missile attack on Mir Ali killed five people, including foreign militants, on Wednesday.

The airstrikes, and the first-ever use of ground troops, have strained relations between the allies.

The Pakistani government has protested that the attacks violated territorial sovereignty and undermined its own long-term efforts to crush militancy in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high.

The Pakistan army is currently fighting fierce battles against militants in Bajaur, at the north east extreme of the tribal belt, and Swat, an alpine valley in a more settled region close to the tribal lands.

In some places, ethnic Pashtun tribesmen have banded together with encouragement from the authorities to oppose the militants, whom the tribes blame for bringing violence to their region.