U.S. airstrike targeting Ayman al-Zawahiri leaves 18 dead in Pakistani village

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Location of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan where the air strike took place.

A United States military air strike on a Pakistani village on Friday killed at least 18 people, including women and children. U.S. media reports claim that leading al-Qaeda member Ayman al-Zawahiri was a target, and that the strike took place in the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area of northwestern Pakistan.

The Pentagon has denied any involvement, leading to speculations that the CIA was responsible for the strike. Such speculations have been confirmed by an unnamed American intelligence official; although no official statement has been issued.

Pakistani intelligence officials have contradicted U.S. claims that Ayman al-Zawahiri was in the area at the time of the strike and suggested that the U.S. intelligence information placing him there was incorrect. A Pakistani intelligence officer claimed that Zawahiri was invited to a dinner in the village where the strike took place, but he "did not show up." According to Pakistani army representatives, Ayman al-Zawahiri was not among the dead. Al Arabiya satellite television network has reported that "a source with contacts with al Qaeda reiterated to Arabiya that Zawahiri is alive."

Ayman al-Zawahiri is believed by the U.S. military to be involved in orchestrating insurgent activities in Iraq.

Egypt, who has Zawahiri's brother in prison, has provided the United States with a DNA sample, which would allow officials to positively identify the fugitive al-Qaeda leader. It is also reported that the DNA has already been used to run tests at the FBI in Washington DC.

Pakistan condemned the U.S. air strike, summoned the United States ambassador, and said that the country "does not allow U.S. forces to cross the border in pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters." Pakistan's information minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed said that Pakistan wants "to assure the people we will not allow such incidents to reoccur."

Drone similar to the one alleged in the air strike.

However, Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said that "according to preliminary investigations there was foreign presence in the area and that in all probability was targeted from across the border in Afghanistan."

The Foreign Office issued a statement Saturday saying it lodged a formal complaint with the United States embassy in Islamabad, where it will be hand delivered by Foreign Secretary Riaz Khan.

Pakistani Intelligence officials are looking into reports that suggest at least seven foreign militants had been killed and their bodies removed by local supporters.

This complaint is the second lodged by Pakistan against the U.S. in less than a week. The earlier protest was prompted by U.S. missile attack that killed eight people from a village in the North Waziristan tribal region. According to local officials, none of the victims were terrorist suspects. As a result of the strikes, protests broke out in different parts of the country.