DAMADOLA, Pakistan – Sympathy for al-Qaida has surged after a U.S. airstrike devastated this remote mountain hamlet in a region sometimes as hostile toward the Pakistani government as it is to the United States.
A week after the attack, villagers insist no members of the terror network were anywhere near the border village when it was hit. But thousands of protesters flooded a nearby town chanting, ”Long live Osama bin Laden!”
Pakistan’s army, in charge of hunting militants, was nowhere to be seen.
The rally was the latest in a series of demonstrations across Pakistan against the Jan. 13 attack, which apparently targeted but missed al-Qaida’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The military still mans numerous checkpoints in the area, but it appears to be keeping a low profile so it will not inflame villagers still seething over the deaths of 13 civilians, including women and children, in the attack.
Pakistani intelligence officials believe that four top al-Qaida operatives may have also been killed in the strike including al-Qaida’s master bomb maker, Midhat Mursi, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.
The men had gathered for dinner on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha to plan attacks for early this year in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.
”This attack has increased our hatred for Americans because they are killing innocent women and children,” said Zakir Ullah, one of 5,000 demonstrators in Inayat Qala, a market town about three miles from Damadola.
”We support jihad [holy war]. Jihad is the duty of every Muslim,” he said…