Suspected US missile strike kills 5 in NW Pakistan
By MUNIR AHMAD,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 36 minutes ago
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A suspected U.S. missile strike killed five militants, including several foreigners, in a stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaida in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, officials said.
There were unconfirmed reports that the dead included Rashid Rauf, a Briton linked to an alleged plot to down trans-Atlantic jetliners who escaped from Pakistani custody last year.
A burst of U.S. cross-border attacks into Pakistan has killed dozens of suspected militants since August but has drawn angry protests from Pakistan, an uneasy ally in Washington's war on terrorism facing a wave of destabilizing violence.
Saturday's strike occurred in the North Waziristan region, part of the tribal belt from where militants are supporting the growing insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan and a possible hiding place for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
A Taliban spokesman said all those killed in the pre-dawn attack in the village of Ali Khel were civilians.
"None was a foreigner," Ahmedullah Ahmedi said in a statement delivered to reporters in Miran Shah, the region's main town. Three children were injured, it said.
However, three Pakistani intelligence officials, citing reports from field agents as well as intercepted militant communications, said they believed Rauf and an Egyptian militant were among five killed.
Militants quickly cordoned off the area and one of the intelligence officials cautioned that government spies in the area had not seen any of the bodies.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter to news media.
In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said British officials were investigating reports that Rauf was dead but could not confirm it.
Rauf has been on the run since December 2007, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
After his arrest in August 2006, Britain had sought his extradition, ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there.
Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain plotting to smuggle explosives hidden in drinks bottles onto trans-Atlantic flights.
The plot's detection prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carry-on items. A London jury convicted three men in the case in September.
U.S. forces are suspected of having carried out about 20 missile attacks since August into northwestern Pakistan, reflecting American impatience at Islamabad's efforts to tackle militants on its own soil.
Only six missile strikes were reported in Pakistan in the first seven months of the year, according to an Associated Press tally.
American authorities rarely confirm or deny individual attacks, which are apparently launched from unmanned aircraft prowling the mountainous border region.
Still, senior U.S. officials have defended the tactic and said it has eliminated several top al-Qaida operatives in recent months.
The strikes have continued despite Pakistani complaints that they are illegal and deepen the anti-American sentiment feeding Islamic extremism in the country.
President Asif Ali Zardari has urged Washington to share intelligence and equip Pakistani forces so they can pursue militants on their own side of the border.
However, Zardari has made clear that he will not break off cooperation _ and has raised hopes that President-elect Barack Obama will soften U.S. policy after taking office.
Militants threatened after a missile attack near the northwestern town of Bannu on Wednesday to launch revenge attacks on foreigners and Pakistani targets.
At about the same time as Saturday's strike, police said militants attacked a checkpoint in Bannu with rockets and gunfire, killing three officers.
Associated Press writers Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.
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