Pakistanis Condemn Purported CIA Attack
RIAZ KHAN / AP 14jan2006
DAMADOLA, Pakistan - Pakistani officials on Saturday angrily condemned a purported CIA airstrike meant to target al-Qaida's No. 2 man, saying he wasn't there and "innocent civilians" were among at least 17 men, women and children killed in a village near the Afghan border.
Pakistani tribal villagers view damage caused by airstrikes in the northwestern village of Damadola, near the Afghan border in Pakistan, where 17 people killed, Saturday, Jan 14, 2006. Villagers whose homes were destroyed in a U.S airstrike targeting al-Qaida’s number 2 Ayman al-Zawahri denied that he was ever there, as thousands marched in three separate protests against the attack. One mob set fire to the office of a U.S.-funded aid group.
Photo: Mohammad Zubair
Thousands of tribesmen staged protests and a mob set fire to the office of a U.S.-backed aid agency as Pakistan's people and government showed increasing frustration over a recent series of suspected U.S. attacks along the frontier that appear aimed at Islamic militants.
Survivors in Damadola denied militants were in their hamlet, but there were news reports quoting unidentified Pakistani officials as saying up to 11 extremists were believed among the dead.
A Pakistani intelligence officer told The Associated Press some bodies were taken away for DNA tests. He did not say who would do the tests, but a law enforcement official in Washington said the FBI expected to conduct DNA tests to determine victims' identities, although Pakistan had not yet formally requested them.
Counterterrorism officials in Washington declined to comment on U.S. media reports that CIA-operated drone aircraft fired missiles Friday at a residential compound in Damadola trying to hit Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant whose videos have made him the face and voice of al-Qaida.
In Pakistan's strongest reaction, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called the attack "highly condemnable" and said the government wanted "to assure the people we will not allow such incidents to reoccur."
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it protested to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker over the "loss of innocent civilian lives."
Neither addressed the target of the airstrike. But two senior Pakistani security officials confirmed to AP that al-Zawahri was the intended victim and said Pakistan's assessment was that the CIA acted on incorrect information.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn't want to publicly comment about such a sensitive matter.
Many in this nation of 150 million people object to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's alliance with Washington in the war on international terror groups, seeing it as a veiled campaign against Muslims.
More than 8,000 tribesmen chanting "God is great!" took to the streets of a town near Damadola to castigate the attack. Sahibzada Haroon ur Rashid, a local lawmaker from a hardline Islamic party, called it "open terrorism."
Elsewhere in the area, a mob burned the office of a U.S.-supported aid group near Damadola and police used tear gas to disperse a small demonstration in another town, residents said.
In Damadola, villagers said all the dead were local people and denied harboring al-Zawahri or any other Islamic extremists in the ethnic Pashtun hamlet about four miles from the border with Afghanistan.
"I don't know him. He was not at my home. No foreigner was at my home when the planes came and dropped bombs," said Shah Zaman, whose house was one of those destroyed in the attack.
The strike left three homes hundreds of yards apart in ruins. People in the area said the blasts could be felt miles away.
Doctors told AP at least 17 people died, including women and children, but residents put the death toll at more than 30.
While villagers denied outsiders were present, the Foreign Ministry's statement said a preliminary investigation indicated there was a "foreign presence" in the area — which it said had most likely been targeted from across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's government insists it does not allow the 20,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to cross the border in the hunt for Taliban fighters or al-Qaida members believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of the frontier region.
But the attack in Damadola was the latest in a string of incidents on Pakistan's side of the border in recent weeks that many people suspect were U.S. assaults that violated this Islamic country's sovereignty.
Last Saturday, U.S. helicopters reportedly attacked a house in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing eight people. Two days later, Pakistan lodged a protest with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
In December, a senior Egyptian al-Qaida suspect, Hamza Rabia, was killed in what appeared to be a missile strike, also in North Waziristan — although Pakistan's government maintained that Rabia died in a bomb-making accident.
Bin Laden and al-Zawahri, both of whom have $25 million U.S. bounties on their heads, are believed to have been hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan frontier since the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Reports that al-Zawahri could be close to capture have surfaced before.
In early 2004 during a major Pakistani counterterrorism operation in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials said he was believed to be hiding in the area. The reports were never substantiated.
— Munir Ahmad, Sadaqat Jan, Matthew Pennington and En-Lai Yeoh in Islamabad contributed to this report.
source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060114/ap_on_re_as/pakistan_al_qaida_attack 14jan2006
FBI Likely to Test DNA of Pakistan Victims
WASHINGTON — The FBI anticipates performing DNA tests on the victims of a purported CIA airstrike in Pakistan that apparently targeted al-Qaeda's second-in-command, a law enforcement official said Saturday. At least 17 people were killed in the airstrike on Damadola, near the Afghan border. Senior Pakistani officials told The Associated Press that the CIA acted on erroneous information in launching the attack early Friday, and that Ayman al-Zawahri was not among the dead.
In Washington, Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and intelligence officials did not immediately provide additional details about the attack.
DNA tests to determine the victims' identities are expected to be conducted in the United States, according to the law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal request for such testing had not been made public.
Up to 11 extremists were believed to be among the dead, according to unidentified Pakistani officials quoted in news reports. However, survivors of the attack in Damadola denied that militants were there.
A Pakistani intelligence officer told the AP that some bodies were taken away for DNA tests.
The U.S. government has issued a $25 million bounty for al-Zawahri, considered by Western authorities to be a close associate to Osama bin Laden. Like bin Laden, al-Zawahri is believed to have been hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan frontier since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., has extensive DNA research capabilities and provides that expertise to the Defense Department and other government agencies.
A counterterrorism official said that if al-Zawahri were killed, which is not yet known, it would be a devastating blow to al-Qaeda. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The official said the group's leaders have shown themselves to be fairly resilient when other al-Qaeda lieutenants were killed or captured, but that al-Zawahri's death would be much tougher to endure.
Al-Zawahri has been the public face of al-Qaeda. Last year, bin Laden took a lower profile and delegated much authority to al-Zawahri to conduct al-Qaeda's operations.
Bin Laden also didn't make a single public statement in 2005. Instead, his top deputy appeared in video and audio recordings.
source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2006-01-14-airstrike-dna-tests_x.htm 14jan2006