CBSN

Pakistan: Airstrike Killed Terrorists

Pakistani protesters hold placards as they shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest rally to condemn the purported CIA air-strike that killed 17 people, Monday, Jan. 16, 2006 in Karachi, Pakistan.
AP
Pakistani provincial authorities said Tuesday four or five foreign terrorists were killed in the purported U.S. missile strike that has severely strained relations with this Muslim nation, a key ally in President Bush's war on terror.

However, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that Pentagon officials believe the number is more like seven or eight — and that most were Egyptians and members of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's inner circle.

The White House Tuesday refused to confirm any U.S. connection to the attack on that Pakistani village, reports CBS News correspondent Peter Maer. It says it doesn't comment on operational matters.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, on the eve of a trip to Washington, said that despite the importance of ties with the United States, attacks inside Pakistan "cannot be condoned."

"Pakistan has committed to fighting terrorism, but naturally we cannot accept any action within our country which results in what happened over the weekend," Aziz said, referring to the missile strike Friday in the border village of Damadola.

Eighteen residents, including women and children, were also killed in the strike, the provincial government said Tuesday.

Pakistani intelligence officials have said the target of the attack was al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, who they said was invited to a dinner celebrating an Islamic holiday in the village but sent aides instead.

U.S. counterterrorism officials, however, have not ruled out that Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant was killed.

In the first official confirmation by Pakistani authorities that militants were killed, the administration of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan said in a statement that the four or five bodies of "foreign terrorists" were taken away "by their companions."

As a result, a Pakistani intelligence official said, authorities do not know the nationalities of the foreigners killed. The provincial authorities' statement did not identify the dead militants, who it said were among 10 to 12 extremists at the dinner.

But a counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, said several of those killed were believed to be Egyptian. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian, has appeared regularly over the Internet and in Arab media to encourage Muslims to attack Americans and U.S. interests worldwide.

There have been conflicting accounts from Pakistani officials and witnesses over who, if anyone, claimed bodies from the scene of the missile strike, which destroyed three houses.

Damadola residents say all the victims were local residents and that they buried them all. One Pakistani official told The Associated Press on Saturday that bodies had been taken away for DNA tests, although it was not clear by whom.