Pakistan army says it kills more terror suspects in tribal region near Afghanistan

Thursday, September 9th 2004, 11:14 am
By: News On 6

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani troops assaulted a suspected terror hideout, killing at least six militants, including foreigners, hours after a military airstrike against an alleged al-Qaida training facility killed more than 50 fighters, the army said Friday.

The raid Thursday afternoon targeted a hideout at Kani Guram, a village in South Waziristan, army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. Five of the six dead were foreigners, he said.

Five other foreigners were captured trying to flee, Sultan said. He did not reveal their identities or nationalities, saying the men were still being interrogated. Troops also seized several computers and dozens of CDs.

North and South Waziristan are considered a possible hideout for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, though there has been no hard evidence of their whereabouts. An Arabic television station on Thursday broadcast a videotape of a bearded, turbaned al-Zawahri saying America was on the brink of defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Experts were investigating its authenticity.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Friday that it was interesting that al-Zawahri has been more vocal then his boss in recent years, and speculated that the al-Qaida leader might be dead.

``There is some evidence that Ayman al-Zawahri and (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar are alive, but it isn't clear if Osama is alive or dead,'' Ahmed told reporters in the southern port city of Karachi. He said he based the assessment on an analysis, not on hard intelligence.

Later, the information minister called the AP to clarify his statement:

``It is just my political guess that Osama bin Laden is nowhere because we have not heard anything from him for a long time, while statements from Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahri occasionally keep coming,'' he said.

The Thursday attack came hours after an aerial assault on an alleged al-Qaida facility in Dila Khula, a South Waziristan village about 15 miles northeast of the region's main town, Wana. Military officials said the 50 suspected terrorists killed were mostly Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens and their local supporters.

Pakistan has frequently overstated the scope of its military operations, claiming to have captured or killed foreigners that turn out to be local tribesmen, or to have zeroed in on top al-Qaida men who never materialize.

Villagers have also complained of heavy civilian casualties.

A large number of Central Asians and some Arab militants are believed to be living in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The area's tribes are fiercely autonomous and deeply resentful of the army's presence, making it an ideal hideout.

Meanwhile, local authorities in Wana on Friday demolished dozens of shops owned by Ba Khan, a tribal elder who controls areas from which troops were repeatedly attacked in recent weeks. Khan was last seen in the area in August and officials suspect he is hiding somewhere in the region along with foreign militants.

Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has deployed about 70,000 troops in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan to hunt remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban.