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Suspected US Missile Strike Kills 21 in Pakistan: Officials


Pakistani protesters hold a rally against the United States and NATO forces under a banner reading: 'NATO and America should stop bombing on innocent civilians in the Frontier province' to condemn alleged strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along Afghanistan border Tuesday, Sept 9, 2008 in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan - At least 21 people including women and children were killed Monday in a missile strike by suspected US drones on a Pakistan tribal town near the Afghan border, officials told AFP.

The drones fired several missiles that hit a house near a madrassa or Islamic seminary in North Waziristan, the officials said, in the fourth such strike in the rugged tribal region in almost a week.

"Seven civilians and 14 militants have died in the missile strike," an intelligence official said, hours after the 11am (0500 GMT) strike.

Women and children were among the dead, as well as the militants, including nine "foreigners" believed to be of Arab origin.

A security official told AFP that more than 25 people had been wounded.

"The latest casualties include an important Arab militant identified as just Hamza and two other Arabs identified as Musa and Qasim," the official said but was unable to give full names immediately.

Some of the injured are in critical condition, hospital officials said.

Foreigner is a term used by Pakistan authorities for Al Qaeda militants.

The drones were apparently targeting the house or the madrassa established by former Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani during the 1978-88 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, residents said.

Haqqani, who was a close aid to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has not been seen since the fall of the hardline regime in Afghanistan in 2001.

Residents said two pilotless aircraft circled over Dande Darpakhel, three kilometres (about two miles) north of the region's main town of Miranshah, before at least one drone fired several missiles.

On Friday, three children and two women were killed in the same region during a suspected strike by a pilotless aircraft.

At least five militants were also killed the day before when a missile fired from an unmanned plane hit a house in the North Waziristan village of Mohammad Khel, officials said.

The latest strike follows Pakistani claims that US-led forces based in Afghanistan killed 15 people in a border village in neighbouring South Waziristan district last week.

That attack was condemned by Pakistan's parliament and the foreign minister who issued a tough statement calling the incident "shameful" and stating that only women and children had been targeted.

Around 3,000 Pakistani tribesmen chanted "Allahu akbar" and "death to America" in Wana, the district's main town, after Friday prayers to protest against that raid, which involved helicopter gunships and ground troops.

Both the US-led coalition and the separate NATO-led security force operating in Afghanistan have said they have no knowledge of the incident.

South Waziristan is a known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.

Missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan in recent weeks have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not have missile-equipped drones.

US and Afghan officials say Pakistan's tribal areas are a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who sneaked into the rugged terrain after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.


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