MIRANSHAH, October 23 – Suspected US spy drones fired missiles early Thursday into a school set up by a top Taliban commander in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, killing 11 people, security officials said.,
The air strike apparently targeting veteran militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, a major target for US forces, was the latest in a string of attacks on Pakistani soil that have raised tensions between Islamabad and Washington.
It came hours after parliament passed a special resolution calling for an urgent review of Pakistan’s anti-terror policy, including more talks with militants and a vow to defend Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.
Security officials said that the madrassa, or religious school, near Miranshah, the main town in troubled North Waziristan region, was set up by Haqqani during the 1980s "jihad" against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
It was currently run by one of Haqqani’s own commanders, Mullah Mansoor, and was recently used as a guest house for "international and local students travelling from other areas".
"At 2:25 am, two spy drones fired three missiles at the madrassa of Mullah Mansoor. Eleven people have been killed in the missile strike," a security official told AFP.
"Locals are still looking for more people in the rubble," he said.
A similar missile strike targeting another house owned by Haqqani on September 8 killed 23 people, including members of Haqqani’s extended family, security officials said.
Haqqani was one of the most prominent Afghan commanders who fought the Red Army between 1978 and 1989. He subsequently became close to Mullah Omar, the leader of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Since the fall of the Taliban, Haqqani has become one of the most active Taliban commanders launching attacks on international forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan, security officials said.
His son Sirajuddin, also a leading Taliban commander, was an occasional visitor at the madrassa that was hit on Thursday, a senior security official handling tribal unrest told AFP.
The Pakistani army said it was gathering details about an "incident" in North Waziristan. "Details are being gathered about the exact number of casualties," chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
Residents said that all of the victims were local tribesmen, adding that locals had fired at two suspected US drones hovering above.
There was no immediate confirmation of the strike from either the US-led coalition in Afghanistan or the Central Intelligence Agency, both of which are known to operate missile-equipped drones.
The strike came hours after Pakistani lawmakers passed a unanimous resolution during a closed-doors joint session of parliament demanding that the government do more to put an end to US military action on Pakistani soil.
"The nation stands united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland, and calls upon the government to deal with it effectively," the resolution said.
But it also said that talks with insurgents were vital, adding: "Dialogue must now be the highest priority, as a principal instrument of conflict management and resolution."
Missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan in recent weeks have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan.
The United States has stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistani territory since a new civilian government came to power in Islamabad in March.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed zero tolerance against violations of his country’s sovereignty amid the strikes, which have stoked anti-US sentiment in Pakistan.
US and Afghan officials say northwest Pakistan is a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who sneaked in from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be hiding in the area.