Pakistanis Condemn Airstrikes

Pakistani tribal villager Ahmedullah shows page of Muslim holy book Quran alegedly damaged by airstrikes in Damadola, that killed at least 17 people killed, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006.
Pakistani officials on Saturday angrily condemned a purported CIA airstrike meant to target al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, saying he wasn't there and "innocent civilians" were among at least 17 men, women and children killed in a village near the Afghan border.

Thousands of tribesmen staged protests and a mob set fire to the office of a U.S.-backed aid agency as Pakistan's people and government showed increasing frustration over a recent series of suspected U.S. attacks along the frontier that appear aimed at Islamic militants.

Survivors in Damadola denied militants were in their hamlet, but there were news reports quoting unidentified Pakistani officials as saying up to 11 extremists were believed among the dead.

A Pakistani intelligence officer told The Associated Press some bodies were taken away for DNA tests. He did not say who would do the tests, but a law enforcement official in Washington said the FBI expected to conduct DNA tests to determine victims' identities, although Pakistan had not yet formally requested them.

Pending the outcome of forensic tests, U.S. officials say there's still a chance al-Zawahiri was killed but it is "miniscule," which would leave his whereabouts tonight – like Osama bin Laden's – still a mystery, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

Counterterrorism officials in Washington declined to comment on U.S. media reports that CIA-operated drone aircraft fired missiles Friday at a residential compound in Damadola trying to hit al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant whose videos have made him the face and voice of al Qaeda.

In Pakistan's strongest reaction, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called the attack "highly condemnable" and said the government wanted "to assure the people we will not allow such incidents to reoccur."

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it protested to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker over the "loss of innocent civilian lives."

Neither addressed the target of the airstrike. But two senior Pakistani security officials confirmed to AP that al-Zawahiri was the intended victim and said Pakistan's assessment was that the CIA acted on incorrect information.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn't want to publicly comment about such a sensitive matter.

Neil Livingstone, the CEO of an antiterrorism consulting group in Washington, told the CBS Evening News that al-Zawahiri is the mastermind of al Qaeda's day-to-day operations.

"He's more important than bin Laden. Zawahiri is an operations chief, he's the guy who really in the past has planned operations," he said.