MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - U.S. missile strikes in northwest Pakistan killed up to 20 people on Friday, including a mid-level al Qaeda leader said to be an Iraqi, Pakistani officials said.
One intelligence official identified the al Qaeda leader as Abu Akash. His real name was believed to be Abdur Rehman, another security official said.
“He is a mid-level al Qaeda man who was leading a high-profile life in Mir Ali,” said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified, referring to the second biggest town in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
Two missiles were fired by a pilotless “drone” aircraft into a house in Mir Ali, a major sanctuary for foreign Islamist militants including Arabs, and Central Asians, another intelligence official said.
A witness said the house was ablaze after the strike. Between 15 and 20 people were believed to have been killed.
A short while later, another suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, another militant hide-out on the Afghan border.
One person was killed and one wounded, a district government official said. The identities of the casualties were unknown but several militants were believed to have been in the house at the time of the strike.
U.S. forces have stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistan in response to concern about worsening security in Afghanistan.
Drones have been used to carry out about 15 missile attacks in Pakistan’s lawless ethnic Pashtun tribal lands on the border with Afghanistan since the beginning of September.
U.S. forces also launched a cross-border commando raid.
Scores of people have been killed but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders are reported to have been killed.
Pakistan says the strikes are a violation of its sovereignty and summoned the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday to demand that they be stopped.
Nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan also is battling militants on its side of the border but it says cross-border U.S. strikes undermine efforts to isolate the militants and rally public opinion behind the unpopular campaign against militancy.
The United States has shrugged off Pakistani protests. It says the attacks protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and kill Taliban and al Qaeda militants who threaten them.
A senior Pakistani security official said Abu Akash’s real name was believed to be Abdur Rehman, although he was known to have used many aliases.
He was known as Akash Khan in Mir Ali where he had lived since before 2001 and had once been in charge of town traffic.
“He is an al Qaeda man but was not among the top hierarchy. He was involved in carrying out IED blasts in Afghanistan,” said the security official, referring to improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs.
Earlier on Friday, a suicide bomber killed nine people in an attack on a police chief in the northwestern Pakistani town of Mardan, the latest in a series of bomb attacks.
The violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan has raised concern about both U.S. allies. In Pakistan, the violence has unnerved investors and compounded an economic crisis that looks set to force the country to agree to International Monetary Fund help.
Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani and Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Roddy