Al-Qaeda No 2 missed dinner that prompted US strike
A dinner invitation to al Qaeda's second-in-command triggered a US air strike in Pakistan's tribal region but Ayman al-Zawahri failed to show up.world Updated: Jan 15, 2006 15:38 IST
A dinner invitation to al Qaeda's second-in-command triggered a US air strike in Pakistan's tribal region but Ayman al-Zawahri failed to show up, Pakistani intelligence officials said on Sunday.
Pakistan condemned onFriday's strike, which killed at least 18 people, including women and children, and summoned US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to protest. Thousands of local tribesmen also rallied near the scene, chanting anti-American slogans.
The Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that foreigners had been near the village of Damadola in the Bajaur region bordering Afghanistan and were the probable target.
Pakistani intelligence officials said they were checking reports up to seven foreign militants had been killed and their bodies removed by local supporters. But they said there were no indications Osama bin Laden's deputy, Zawahri, was there.
"He was invited for the dinner, but we have no evidence he was present," a senior intelligence official told Reuters.
Al Arabiya television quoted a source it said had contact with al Qaeda saying Zawahri was alive.
The US government has not commented, but US sources familiar with the operation said it was too early to determine his fate and the remains of the dead would have to be examined to determine whether Zawahri was among them.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitive nature, said the air strike was carried out on the basis of "very good" intelligence indicating Zawahri was at the targeted location.
Another Pakistani intelligence official said two local Islamist clerics, known for harbouring al Qaeda militants, had attended the dinner but left hours before the air strike at 3.00 am (2200 GMT).