KHAR, Pakistan – Pakistani troops backed by missile-firing helicopters destroyed a purported al-Qaida-linked training facility in a northwestern tribal area near the Afghan border Monday, officials said. At least 20 people were killed.
The pre-dawn attack targeted a religious school, or madrassa, holding 70-80 militants in Chingai village near Khar, the main town in the Bajur tribal district, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan….
Sultan said the attack targeted terrorists training at the al-Qaida-linked facility, but local leaders said those killed in the raid were innocent civilians.
Among the dead was Liaquat Hussain, a local Islamic cleric who ran the madrassa and is believed to have been sheltering al-Qaida militants, locals said. Several of his aides also died, they said.
The attack came two days after 5,000 pro-Taliban tribesmen held an anti-American rally in the Bajur area near Damadola, a village close to the site of an alleged U.S. missile attack that killed several al-Qaida members and civilians in January.
“We received confirmed intelligence reports that 70-80 militants were hiding in a madrassa used as a terrorist-training facility, which was destroyed by an army strike, led by helicopters,” Sultan said….
Siraj ul-Haq, a Cabinet minister from the North West Frontier Province, condemned the attack and announced he would resign from the government in protest.
“This is a very wrong action. The government has launched an attack during the night, which is against Islam and the traditions of the area,” ul-Haq told the AP during the funeral. “They (the victims) were not given any warning. This was an unprovoked attack on a madrassa. They were innocent people.”…
Ul-Haq, who belongs to the powerful Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said protests would be staged throughout the northern tribal region on Tuesday to denounce the attack.