Suspected US missile strike kills 5 in NW Pakistan
By MUNIR AHMAD,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, November 23
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 British suspect in a foiled 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.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials, citing reports from their agents in the region, said the pre-dawn attack killed four foreign militants and a Pakistani facilitator.
The officials said the targeted house in the village of Ali Khel belonged to a Pakistani Taliban commander named Khaliq Noor who was known to shelter foreign fighters.
A third intelligence official in Islamabad said intercepted communications among militants indicated that Rauf was among those killed, but cautioned that government agents in the area had not seen his body.
A senior Pakistani government official said spy agencies were seeking more evidence of Rauf's demise.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter to news media.
Rauf has been on the run since December 2007, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing at a court in Islamabad.
He was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006 before the airline plot was foiled. Britain has sought his extradition, both as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, and to question him as a "key person" in the airplane plot.
U.S. forces are suspected of having carried out about 20 missile attacks since August into northwestern Pakistan, a sharply increased pace that reflects frustration at Islamabad's efforts to tackle militants on its own soil.
American authorities rarely confirm or deny individual attacks, which are apparently launched from unmanned aircraft prowling over the mountainous, cave-ridden border region.
Still, senior U.S. officials have defended the tactic and said it has eliminated several top al-Qaida operatives in recent months.
Pakistani leaders have denounced the strikes, arguing that they deepen the anti-American feeling fueling Islamic extremism in the country and could trigger a wider tribal insurrection.
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 in North Waziristan threatened after a missile strike near the town of Bannu on Wednesday to launch revenge attacks on foreigners and Pakistani targets.
At about the same time as Saturday's missile strike, police said militants attacked a checkpoint in Bannu with rockets and gunfire, killing three officers.
Police official Mohammed Jan said police returned fire but that the militants managed to flee.
Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.
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