12 suspected militants killed at Pakistan border zone

February 28, 2008 7:02:56 PM PST
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) - A pre-dawn explosion demolished a house in Pakistan's wild frontier zone on Thursday, killing up to 12 suspected militants, the military, intelligence officials and a local militant said. The explosion "ripped through heavy explosives stored at a house" in a village in South Waziristan, a region bordering Afghanistan where militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban operate, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press.

Abbas added that 10 to 12 people died in the explosion. He would not say who the slain men were, or how many foreigners may have been present.

The comments by Abbas came hours after an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said about 10 foreign militants were believed to have been killed.

Six others were wounded in the strike in the village of Kalosha, the official said, citing initial reports from informants in the area. He had no further details of the victims' identities.

The official, based in Dera Ismail Khan, a city near South Waziristan, said the suspects had been staying in the home of a tribesman.

A second intelligence officer said the explosion rattled the windows of his office in Wana, South Waziristan's main town, about six miles away. He said the nationalities and identities of those killed were unclear.

A local militant fighter, who did not want his name made public in case he is targeted by security forces, said at least nine of the tribesman's guests had been killed. He said they were all Afghan civilians, including children.

The militant said a plane had been heard in the area shortly before the strike, and one of the intelligence officials said a U.S. drone may have fired a missile at the house. Pakistani forces were not involved, he said.

A spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said they had no information about the incident.

South Waziristan lies in a swath of Pakistani territory that has fallen increasingly under the control of militant groups opposed to the American-backed governments in Kabul and Islamabad.

Western officials are concerned that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, may have found increasingly secure refuge in the area.

Pakistan says it does not allow U.S. forces to operate on its territory. However, unmanned American Predator aircraft apparently have fired missiles at suspected militant targets on several occasions in recent years.

In a video message issued Wednesday, al-Zawahri praised Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida commander believed to have been killed in a Predator strike in Pakistan last month.