Pakistan seeks bodies of militants killed in U.S. strike; report bombmaker among dead |

Pakistan seeks bodies of militants killed in U.S. strike; report bombmaker among dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistani intelligence agents hunted Wednesday for the graves of four al-Qaida militants believed killed in an airstrike near the Afghan border – including one authorities suspect was a high-ranking al-Qaida figure.ABC News reported that a master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert for al-Qaida was killed in the attack on the village of Damadola last week. He was identified as Midhat Mursi, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, who ran an al-Qaida training camp and has a $5 million reward on his head.According to ABC, Pakistani officials also said two other terror network officials were killed: Khalid Habib, the al-Qaida operations chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Abdul Rehman al Magrabi, a senior operations commander for the group.Pentagon officials said they had no information on the report. A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to journalists, said authorities still did not know the names of the dead foreign militants but suspect one was a ranking al-Qaida figure.”We have no names. We know one of them had value in al-Qaida. He had intelligence value in the network, but we are still checking his name,” said the official.However, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told The Associated Press the government does not know the identities of the foreigners believed killed in the missile strike Friday, which officials have said targeted Osama bin Laden’s top aide, Ayman al-Zawahri.”We are still investigating. There’s a possibility that some foreigners were there, but we still do not know,” said Sherpao, who was in New York with visiting Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.Sherpao said the government had not retrieved the bodies of any of the four foreign militants reported killed in the raid. He said the bodies may have been taken by a local pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, who also is being hunted by authorities.The U.S. government refuses to discuss the airstrike, which has been condemned by Pakistan.Provincial authorities say the attack killed 18 residents of the Pashtun village, and they also say they believe sympathizers took the bodies of four or five foreign militants to bury them in the mountains, thereby preventing their identification.”Efforts are under way to investigate further,” said Shah Zaman Khan, director-general of media relations for Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.He said authorities were also looking for two prominent pro-Taliban clerics accused of harboring militants, Maulana Faqir Mohammed and Liaqat Ali, who were allegedly in Damadola and survived the assault.Intelligence officials say the dead foreigners could be aides of al-Zawahri, who is thought to have sent them in his place to an Islamic holiday dinner to which he’d been invited in Damadola on the night of the attack.Hours after the attack, an Associated Press reporter visited the village, which consists of a half-dozen widely scattered houses on a hillside about four miles from the Afghan border.Residents said then that all the dead were local people and no one had taken any bodies away. However, it appeared feasible bodies or wounded could have been spirited away in the darkness after the attack, which took place about 3 a.m.Islamic custom dictates that bodies be buried as soon as possible, and the reporter saw 13 freshly filled graves with simple headstones and five empty graves alongside them – apparently prepared for more dead. When the reporter returned the next day, the five empty graves were filled in, apparently because no more bodies had been found in the rubble.The only tidbits of official information that have surfaced since then have come from provincial authorities, and they have yet to give a list of the dead. But Pakistani intelligence officials have said they believe some of those killed were Pakistani militants and that their bodies were also removed from the scene.A Pakistani army official has told the AP that some bodies were taken away for DNA tests – information at odds with reports from provincial authorities. The federal government has not confirmed the report about DNA tests.Pakistan maintains it was not given advance word of the airstrike, which was reportedly carried out by unmanned Predator drones flying from Afghanistan.Thousands have taken to the streets in protest over the attack, denouncing the U.S. and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who ended Pakistan’s support of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and has himself been targeted by al-Qaida attacks.Nevertheless, allegations persist that Pakistan harbors dangerous Islamic militants.On Wednesday, more than 5,000 people marched through the Afghan border town of Spinboldak, chanting “Death to Pakistan” and “Death to al-Qaida” to protest a suicide attack at a fair this week that killed 21 people.Afghan officials claim the bomber – the latest in about 25 suicide attackers to strike in Afghanistan in the past four months – trained in Pakistan. Islamabad denies giving sanctuary to terrorists.Vail, Colorado

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