BBC & ABC News & The Guardian & AP – 2006-11-01 07:44:00
Pakistan Madrassa Raid ‘Kills 80’
This was an unprovoked attack on a madrassa — they were innocent people.
— Siraj ul-Haq, Provincial minister
We heard two blasts at about 4:50 am, whereas the Pakistani helicopters appeared a good 10 minutes later,
— Bajaur attack witness
(October 30, 2006) — At least 80 militants have been killed in an air strike by Pakistani forces on a madrassa (religious school) used as a militant training camp, the army says.
The army said the madrassa in the tribal area of Bajaur bordering Afghanistan was destroyed by helicopter gunships early on Monday. One eyewitness told the BBC that 70-80 students were inside. A leading local politician says the dead were innocent.
Pakistan has deployed nearly 80,000 troops along the border.
They are there to hunt militants who sought refuge in the rugged tribal terrain after the ousting of the Taleban in Afghanistan in late 2001.
President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to reform madrassas after many were criticised for supporting Islamic militancy. Monday’s attack took place near Khar, the main town in Bajaur.
The leader of the madrassa, radical cleric Maulana Liaqat, was among the dead. He was a prominent member of a group of pro-Taleban tribal clerics, the BBC’s Rahimullah Yusufzai in Peshawar says.
“We received confirmed intelligence reports that 70-80 militants were hiding in a madrassa used as a terrorist training facility, which was destroyed by an army strike, led by helicopters,” army spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan told the Associated Press news agency.
However, an eyewitness told the BBC that the madrassa school was filled with about 80 local students who had resumed studies after the Muslim Eid holidays.
People at the scene told reporters that body parts were scattered in the area after the attack. “We heard helicopters flying in and then heard bombs,” villager Haji Youssef said. “We are all saddened by what we have seen.”
A cabinet minister from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, Siraj ul-Haq, has resigned in protest over the attack. “This is a very wrong action. They [the victims] were not given any warning. This was an unprovoked attack on a madrassa. They were innocent people,” Siraj ul-Haq told the Associated Press before resigning.
Journalists trying to get to the scene were being turned back as they tried to enter the Bajaur region.
The attack came two days after local militants attended a rally in the area where they declared the al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and Taleban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar as their heroes.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad says Monday morning’s attack coincides with peace talks between tribal elders and pro-Taleban militants in Bajaur.
The government had already released prisoners in anticipation of a deal, possibly along the lines of an agreement signed in the neighbouring tribal region of North Waziristan, our correspondent says.
But the army says peace talks would not be allowed to serve as a cover for militant activity.
Bajaur, which borders Afghanistan’s insurgency-plagued eastern province of Kunar, was the scene of a controversial US air strike in January, believed to be aimed at al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The 13 January raid killed at least 18 people, mostly civilians.
In May, Pakistani authorities said a senior al-Qaeda figure, Abu Marwan al-Suri, had been killed in Bajaur during a clash with local police.
Zawahiri Was Target in US Attack on Religious School in Pakistan
Alexis Debat / ABC News>/a>
(October 30, 2006) — Ayman al Zawahiri was the target of a Predator missile attack this morning on a religious school in Pakistan, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
ABC News has learned the raid was launched after US intelligence received tips and examined Predator reconnaissance indicating that al Qaeda’s No. 2 man may have been staying at the school, which is located in the Bajaur region near the village that is thought to be al Qaeda’s winter headquarters.
Despite earlier reports that the missiles had been launched by Pakistani military helicopters, Pakistani intelligence sources now tell ABC News that the missiles were fired from a US Predator drone plane.
Between two and five senior al Qaeda militants were killed in the attack, including the mastermind of the airliners plot in the UK, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
No word yet on whether or not Zawahiri was killed in the raid, but one Pakistani intelligence source did express doubt that Zawahiri would have been staying in a madrassa, which is an obvious target for strikes against militants. That source, however, did express confidence that Pakistani intelligence is closing in on Zawahiri’s location.
One of the clerics who is believed to have been killed today, Maulana Liaquat, was one of the two main local leaders believed to be protecting Zawahiri.
Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News they believe they have “boxed” Zawahiri in a 40-square-mile area between the Khalozai Valley in Bajaur and the village of Pashat in Kunar, Afghanistan. They hope to capture or kill him in the next few months.
• 40 square miles, election day 2 weeks away … coincidence…
Posted by: Mike |
• If they’ve got Zawahiri “boxed” in an area less than 7 miles to a side, why would it take “months” to find and kill him? This is another example of how not enough resources are being directed to this effort. Posted by: Tom |
• I can only imagine the immense pressure placed upon Pakistan officials to
take some action prior to the election. The Bush White House is supporting a policy that will not work. Death is touching so many in iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we haven’t had an attack on our home land,
yet how can we be proud of the carnage and destruction that we have brought to
the homeland of other human beings. Are we so selfish that we look past the fact that tens of thousands of iraqi civilians have been killed just so we can be safe here in the states…. Justifying the death of any human being is just a method of justifying our unwillingness to standup for honoring life.
And I would remind all americans that we are all one nation. remember how it feels to stand united with your fellow American.
Our president should represent all Americans. This is what makes some Presidents great, the ability to care for the concerns of all the citizens equally.
Posted by: al |
• …and of course, the intelligence was wrong… bin Laden remains free… and we are bogged down in an illegal war that violates crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity….
Posted by: normanx |
Copyright © 2006 ABCNews Iternet Ventures
‘Shock and Awe’ on Afghan Border
M Ilyas Khan / BBC News
(October 30, 2006) — The missile strike that has killed close to 80 alleged militants in Pakistan’s Bajaur area appears to have targeted well-known supporters of the Taleban and al-Qaeda. But exactly who was killed at Chinagai remains unclear as paramilitary troops prevented reporters from travelling to the area.
A number of locals and a senior minister in North-West Frontier Province, Siraj-ul-Haq, who led funeral prayers for those killed, said that there were several children among the dead.
Surprisingly, the attack came on a day when the government and local militants were scheduled to sign a peace deal mediated by tribal elders.
One of militant leaders known to have died in the attack is Maulana Liaqat, the head of the seminary that was targeted by the missiles.
Maulana Liaqat was also a leader of the pro-Taleban movement, Tanzim Nifaz Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) that spearheaded a violent Islamic movement in Bajaur and the neighbouring Malakand areas in 1994.
The TNSM also led some 5,000 men from the Pakistani areas of Dir, Swat and Bajaur across the Mamond border into Afghanistan in October 2001 to fight US-led troops. Another local cleric, Maulana Faqir Mohammad, currently heads the TNSM in Bajaur agency.
Both Faqir Mohammad and Maulana Liaqat were wanted by the government for harbouring Taleban militants and training fighters for the war in Afghanistan.
Early reports suggested that Faqir Mohammad had also been killed in Monday’s attack. But he later turned up at the funeral where he made a speech condemning the raid and vowing to continue support for “jihad against the Americans” in Afghanistan.
He told a reporter of al-Jazeera TV that the attack had been launched by forces “opposed to a North Waziristan-like rapprochement between the government and tribal people”.
Pakistan’s government faced criticism over its controversial peace deal with pro-Taleban tribal militants in September.
Faqir Mohammad avoided a US missile attack in January — in the village of Damadola just two kilometres away from the site of Monday’s air strikes — in which 13 people were killed.
Media reports quoting intelligence sources suggested that one of the targets of that attack was the al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who apparently failed to show up at the venue.
Initially, Faqir Mohammad was believed to have been killed in that attack, but next morning he led the funeral prayers of those who were killed. He remained in the area for nearly a week, granting interviews to the media and holding condolence meetings for the dead.
Those who died in the Damadola attack were believed to be civilians, including women and children belonging to a local jewellers’ family.
The government’s claim that at least five al-Qaeda operatives of foreign origin were also killed in the attack was never substantiated.
Government officials had claimed at the time that Maulana Faqir Mohammad and Maulana Liaqat removed the bodies of the al-Qaeda men before the officials or the media arrived on the scene.
If the latest body count is confirmed, it would take the combined death toll of the two attacks to 93, a high figure for this remote corner of the Pakistani tribal belt. But it is also a sign of the attention that the Mamond valley is receiving from the US and Pakistani authorities.
The valley, which constitutes an administrative sub-division of Bajaur agency, has housed training camps for both Afghan and Kashmiri militants in the past.
The local population hosted a large number of Arab mujahideen during 1980s and 1990s, and opened up to the influence of some extremist factions of the Islamic Brotherhood.
The area served as an important staging ground for Afghan and local mujahideen to organise and conduct raids as far afield as Kabul during the days of the Soviet occupation.
The area was targeted in air raids by Soviet jets and helicopter gunships which aimed for mujahideen camps but often hit civilian targets. It still hosts a large Afghan refugee population sympathetic to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a mujahideen leader ideologically close to the Arab militants.
A one time protégé of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, Mr Hekmatyar is still reported to be operating in the area.
The US says militants based in Bajaur launch frequent attacks on American and Afghan troops in the adjoining Afghan province of Kunar.
The missile attack on Damadola in January sparked widespread criticism of the Pakistani government, forcing it to publicly distance itself from the reported policy of allowing the US to launch attacks inside Pakistan.
Monday’s attack may create a similar controversy, with one media report claiming that the missile attack was launched by a US drone.
An eyewitness interviewed on the telephone by the BBC News website appeared to corroborate that view. “We heard two blasts at about 4:50 am, whereas the Pakistani helicopters appeared a good 10 minutes later,” the witness, who did not wish to be named, said.
The question is, why would the government risk another controversy at a time when it was close to signing an agreement with the militants? Also, the law and order situation in the area has not been bad enough to warrant a surgical strike.
If there were any intelligence reports to justify an attack, they have not been shared with the media.
Some circles believe the attack was either conducted by the US, or under their pressure. Others expect some political repercussions but think President Musharraf will weather this storm as he did the last one over the Damadola attack.
Tribal Fury as Pakistan Military Kills 80 in Religious School
Declan Walsh / The Guardian
ISLAMABAD (October 31, 2006) — The Pakistani military launched its deadliest strike against Islamist militants yesterday, with an attack on a purported terrorist training camp near the Afghan border that killed about 80 people.
Helicopters fired missiles into a madrasa, or religious school, in Bajaur tribal region just before dawn, flattening the building and widely scattering debris and body parts. “It was being misused for militant activities,” said a military spokesman, Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan, who added that up to 100 men, aged between 20 and 30, were inside but no women or children.
However, angry local villagers said the casualties were not terrorists but innocent children and religious seminarians.
Wailing men tugged corpses, including that of a seven-year-old boy, from the rubble in Chingai village. Thousands of mourners attended mass burials.
Several thousand people marched through Bajaur’s main town, Khar, chanting: “Death to Musharraf” and “Death to Bush”, in a protest against the Pakistan and US leaders. Jamaat Islami, a hardline but influential Islamist party, condemned the attack as “brutal and barbaric”.
Siraj ul-Haq, a minister in the provincial government, resigned in protest. “This is against Islam and the traditions of the area,” he said. “This was an unprovoked attack on a madrasa. They were innocent people.”
Among the dead was Maulana Liaqatullah, a radical pro-Taliban cleric with links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, said Gen Sultan, but the raid did not target any prominent al-Qaida figures.
Instead, it was aimed at recalcitrant militants who had been warned to abandon the madrasa, he said, adding: “They had been involved in activities in Pakistan and probably Afghanistan too.”
Bajaur has come under close scrutiny this year for its links to al-Qaida and Taliban militancy. The rugged district is considered a potential hiding place for al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden, and lies across the border from Kunar, a mountainous Afghan province where United States forces have concentrated their hunt for fugitive terrorists.
Bajaur is considered the back door to Kunar. There have been several reported sightings of Arab fighters crossing into Pakistan for supplies. They benefit from considerable local sympathy.
In January a US drone aircraft rocketed a house in a village two miles from yesterday’s target, where al-Qaida’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been expected. That attack missed the Egyptian militant but killed about 18 people.
Yesterday’s strike marks the latest twist in Pakistan’s struggle to quell rebellious tribesmen at home and satisfy allies abroad demanding more results in the fight against militant Islamists.
In September President Pervez Musharraf struck a controversial peace deal with militants in North Waziristan tribal region by agreeing to withdraw his troops to base. The military leader claimed the pact would cut cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan, but critics said it could create a militant safe haven.
A similar deal was in the offing in Bajaur and was due to be inked with tribal elders yesterday, only hours after the attack. Instead it has been replaced with an outpouring of grief and fury that will make any future compromise difficult.
Gen Sultan insisted that negotiations would continue. “The prospects for peace are there,” he said.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006
Militants Blame US for Pakistan Strike
Paul Garwood / The Associated Press
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Missiles fired by Pakistani helicopters destroyed a religious school on the Afghan border Monday that the military said was a front for an al-Qaida training camp, killing 80 people and prompting strong protests against the country’s president and the United States.
About 10,000 tribesmen, including armed militants, rallied Tuesday in the northwestern town of Khar near the site, chanting: “God is Great,” “Death to Bush! Death to Musharraf!” and “Anyone who is a friend of America is traitor.”
Islamic leaders and al-Qaida-linked militants had called for nationwide demonstrations to condemn what they claimed was an American assault on Pakistani soil. The army said those who died were militants, but furious villagers and religious leaders said the pre-dawn missile barrage killed innocent students and teachers at the school, known as a madrassa.
US and Pakistani military officials denied American involvement and rejected claims that children and women died in the strike that flattened the building in the remote northwestern village of Chingai, two miles from the Afghan border.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been under intense pressure, particularly from the US and Afghanistan, to rein in militant groups, particularly along the porous Pakistan-Afghan frontier, where Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding. The Pakistani leader, along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, met with President Bush in Washington last month to address the issue.
Among those killed in Monday’s attack was Liaquat Hussain, a cleric who had sheltered militants in the past and was believed associated with al-Zawahri. The raid was launched after the madrassa’s leaders, headed by Hussain, rejected government warnings to stop using the school as a training camp for terrorists, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.
“These militants were involved in actions inside Pakistan and probably in Afghanistan,” Sultan told The Associated Press.
Militant groups in Bajur are believed to ferry fighters, weapons and supplies to Afghanistan to target US forces there and Pakistani soldiers on this side of the ethnic-Pashtun majority tribal belt.
The raid threatens efforts by Musharraf to persuade deeply conservative tribespeople to back his government over pro-Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, who enjoy strong support in many semiautonomous regions in northern Pakistan. The planned signing of a peace deal between tribal leaders and the military was canceled Monday in response to the airstrike.
At Tuesday’s protest in Khar, loudspeakers blared songs urging people to wage holy war, or jihad, as protesters gathered in a large field in the town, located about 6 miles from Chingai village.
“We will continue our jihad. We will take revenge for the blood of our martyrs,” local Islamic cleric, Maulana Roohul Amin, told the crowd. “The forces of infidelity are trying to erase us from existence.”
Protests were also held Monday from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the southern city of Karachi, the largest taking place in Chingai and the Bajur district’s main town of Khar, where 2,000 tribesmen and shopkeepers chanted “Death to Musharraf! Death to Bush!”
Amid fears of unrest, Britain’s Prince Charles, who arrived in Pakistan on Sunday for a five-day stay, canceled a visit planned for Tuesday to Peshawar.
The raid was the country’s deadliest military operation targeting suspected terrorists. Sultan said 80 people were killed in the building, which was 100 yards from the nearest house. Local political officials and Islamic leaders corroborated the death toll.
Sultan denied reports that al-Zawahri was in the area at the time of the attack. “It is all wrong, speculative and we launched this operation on our own to target a training facility,” he said. A Bajur-area intelligence official said word was spreading among residents that al-Zawahri may have been expected at the madrassa, but he said the reports were wrong.
Hussain, the cleric believed to have been a deputy of al-Zawahri, was among those killed, the intelligence official and residents said.
Another al-Zawahri lieutenant, Faqir Mohammed, apparently left the madrassa 30 minutes before the strike, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Hours later, Mohammed addressed 10,000 mourners at a funeral for some of the victims. “We were peaceful, but the government attacked and killed our innocent people on orders from America,” said Mohammed, who was surrounded by dozens of militants brandishing semiautomatic weapons. “It is an open aggression.”
Three funerals were held one after the other in a field near the madrassa, where the remains of at least 50 people were laid on wooden beds placed side by side in rows and covered with colored blankets.
Villagers walked among the beds and offered prayers. One man strode through the crowd holding aloft — trophy-style — a severed, blackened hand. Militants, their faces covered with brown and red scarves, patrolled the crowd.
On Saturday, Mohammed led a nearby rally of 5,000 pro-Taliban and al-Qaida militants where he denounced the Pakistani and US governments and praised bin Laden.
Fears are high that the attack will fan unrest across Pakistan, which witnessed violent protests this year after European newspapers published cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, as well as the August killing of a ethnic-Baluch tribal chief in another Pakistani military raid.
In Islamabad, Pakistan’s most influential Islamist political leader blamed American forces for the attack, without providing evidence to support his claim, and called for protests Tuesday.
“It was an American plane behind the attack and Pakistan is taking responsibility because they know there would be a civil war if the American responsibility was known,” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of a six-party religious alliance opposed to Musharraf.
Ahmed claimed that 30 children were among Monday’s dead. But Sultan, the army spokesman, said no children or women were killed and rejected suggestions of US or NATO involvement. Most victims’ bodies were so mangled that positive identification was impossible.
The US military also denied involvement.
“It was completely done by the Pakistani military,” US military spokesman Maj. Matt Hackathorn said in Afghanistan.
The attack took place about two miles from Damadola, where in January a US Predator drone aircraft fired a missile that purportedly targeted — and missed — al-Zawahri, but killed several al-Qaida members and civilians instead.
Thousands of tribespeople traveled from nearby villages to inspect Chingai’s destroyed madrassa, many wailing and others chanting “Long live Islam.” The blast leveled the building, tearing mattresses and scattering Islamic books, including copies of the Quran.
“We heard helicopters flying in and then heard bombs,” said one villager, Haji Youssef. “We were all saddened by what we have seen.”
AP writers Habibullah Khan in Chingai, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Sadaqat Jan and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Jason Straziuso in Kabul contributed to this report.
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