Pakistani sues U.S. over drone aircraft strike

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani man whose brother and son were killed by what he said was a U.S. drone strike is on an ambitious courtroom quest to get $500 million in compensation and end attacks Washington launches against top militants.

Pakistani tribesman Kareem Khan, 43, poses with images of his deceased brother Asif Iqbal (L) and son Zaenullah during an interview in Islamabad November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Kareem Khan said a CIA-operated drone fired missiles at his house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan on the night of Dec 31 2009, killing his son Zaenullah, 18, and brother Asif Iqbal.

In a legal notice to U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CIA Director Leon Panetta, his lawyer is demanding $500 million in compensation.

“We say to them that these drone attacks you are carrying out are killing innocent people,” Khan told Reuters, describing the message he wanted to convey to the Americans.

A U.S. embassy spokesman said no communication had been received over the case.

Pakistan’s government routinely protests against the strikes, but analysts say they could not occur without Pakistani help.

Khan’s attorney, Shahzad Akbar, also plans to file a constitutional petition in a bid to force a showdown.

“If the government is really pushed, we expect it to say it is happening with their knowledge, but not their consent, that they can’t do anything against the United States.”

Akbar hopes the Supreme Court will then rule the drone attacks illegal and put the United States under moral and legal pressure to end them.

“The main aim is to stop drone attacks and two, get compensation for the victims of drone attacks,” he said.

Both are unlikely. While not acknowledging the suspected CIA programme, drone strikes have killed senior al Qaeda and Taliban figures along the Afghan border, a global hub for militants.

Retired High Court justice Tariq Mehmood dismissed the case as a media stunt.

“You need to build public opinion against these strikes, stage demonstrations, hold seminars. Such suits will not work.”

Pakistan worries the attacks undermine efforts to deal with militancy because civilian casualties inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.

Khan, who lives in Islamabad, rushed to his village of Machikhel to find the mutilated bodies of relatives after the strike, which he said had killed another Pakistani man as well.

Several media outlets, including Reuters, reported the trike against Khan’s compound in North Waziristan where security officials were quoted as saying militants were hiding.

“I wanted to get revenge, but there was no one to attack. So I decided to sue,” said Khan, 43.

Drones are vital because they allow the United States to kill militants from a distance. Using human informants is risky; Taliban militants often behead suspected spies for the United States.

Khan said he would do the same.

“I will will never let them live,” said Khan, who sports a thick black beard.

Pakistani Taliban militants are seeking to topple the government and have ambitions to strike in the West.

“I am a Muslim and they are Muslims so they are all my Muslim brothers. They are fighting for the cause of Islam and also for the defence of their own territory and country,” said Khan.

Critics say the drone strikes are short-sighted and only economic development can tackle militancy by erasing conditions that create jihadis, such as poverty and unemployment.

“They pick up sticks and they point them towards the sky and make believe they are shooting drones down,” said Khan, describing how children in his village react when drones hover overhead.

(Additional reporting by Chris Albritton and Kamran Haider; Editing by Ron Popeski)

For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: here