February 28, 2008 / 4:10 AM / 10 years ago

Missile hits Pakistan's Waziristan

WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A missile struck a house in a Pakistani region known as being a safe haven for al Qaeda early on Thursday, killing 10 suspected militants including foreigners, intelligence officials and residents said.

The attack took place near Kaloosha village in the South Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border.

“The blast shook the entire area,” said resident Behlool Khan.

A security official said he believed the missile was fired by U.S. forces who are operating in neighboring Afghanistan, and the house that was hit belonged to a Pashtun tribesman, Sher Mohammad Malikkheil, also known as Sheroo, who was known to have links with militants.

“Ten people, most of them believed to be of Arab origin, were killed and seven wounded,” said an intelligence official, who declined to be identified.

He said it was not known if any top militant leaders were among the dead.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said he was not aware of any such attack.

U.S. forces have fired missiles at militants on the Pakistani side of the border several times in recent years, most recently on January 28 when one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan.

That missile was believed to have been fired by a U.S. pilotless drone.

However, neither U.S. nor Pakistani authorities officially confirm U.S. missile attacks on Pakistani territory, which would be an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty.

SANCTUARIES

Pakistan, an important U.S. ally despite widespread public opposition to the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban, says foreign troops would never be allowed to operate on its territory.

Many al Qaeda members, including Uzbeks and Arabs, and Taliban militants took refuge in North and South Waziristan, as well as in other areas on the Pakistani side of the border after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

From sanctuaries in the lawless border belt, the Taliban have orchestrated their insurgency against the Afghan government and the U.S. and NATO forces supporting it.

Increasingly, so-called Pakistani Taliban have been mounting attacks in Pakistani towns and cities, many aimed at security forces and other government targets.

Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, vowed revenge for Libi’s killing.

“No chief of ours had died of a natural death, nor has our blood been spilled without a response,” Zawahri said in a video posted on an Islamist Web site on Wednesday, referring to Libi’s killing.

Up to 13 foreign militants were killed in the late January strike.

Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and David Fox

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