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8 dead in Pakistan missile strike

PESHAWAR, December 22 – Twin suspected US missile strikes Monday on a tribal area in northwest Pakistan known as a hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda activity killed at least eight militants, officials said.

The strikes were the latest on extremists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan — all said to have been launched by unmanned CIA aircraft — that have raised tensions between Washington and Islamabad.

Two missiles "fired by US drones" struck the villages of Karikot and Shin Warsak in troubled South Waziristan, a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Two vehicles fitted with guns were destroyed," the official said, adding that the eight people killed were all inside the cars, which were camouflaged with mud and grass.

It was not immediately clear if any senior Taliban or Al-Qaeda operatives were killed in the strikes, which took place just minutes apart, he said.

Local intelligence sources said they believed the militants killed were members of local Pakistani Taliban groups.

The strikes caused huge fires in both villages, sending panicked residents running into the streets, the security official said, adding that one house was damaged.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters later gathered in the two villages — both outside Wana, the main town in South Waziristan — to say funeral prayers for those killed, local residents told AFP.

The suspected US strikes have continued despite a warning by Taliban militants based in tribal territory last month that any more would lead to reprisal attacks across Pakistan.

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A missile attack late last month by a US jet killed Rashid Rauf, the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of a 2006 transatlantic airplane bombing plot, as well as an Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative, security officials have said.

Pakistan has repeatedly protested to the United States that the strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the 160 million people of the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.

Saleh Shah, a Pakistani senator from the tribal areas, strongly condemned Monday’s attacks, saying they were "counterproductive" and would not help restore peace and order in the region.

President Asif Ali Zardari recently promised zero tolerance for violations of his country’s sovereignty, but some officials say there is a tacit understanding between the two militaries to allow such action.

More than two dozen similar strikes have been carried out since August, killing more than 200 people, most of them militants.

Islamabad has come under increased pressure to quash militant activity within its borders, with Washington and Kabul saying it has not done enough to stop militants crossing the border to attack US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejects those accusations, pointing to its operation against militants in the semi-autonomous Bajaur region bordering Afghanistan. The military says more than 1,500 rebels have been killed there since August.

Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s rugged border region, although there is no clear information about his whereabouts.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said at the weekend that he was unsure if bin Laden — held responsible by Washington for the September 11, 2001 attacks — was even still alive.

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