Pakistanis Condemn U.S. Attack

Special to The Times

The government demanded an explanation Saturday for a U.S. airstrike on a remote village near the Afghan border that Pakistani officials said missed Al Qaeda’s second in command but killed a number of civilians, including women and children.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called the attack “highly condemnable,” and demonstrations erupted in the border region near the scene of the Friday morning attack. A crowd that gathered at a market shouted “God is great!” and “Down with America!” Protesters ransacked foreign and government aid organizations, damaging computers and setting furniture and motorcycles on fire.

U.S. officials in Washington said Friday that Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who is Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant, was the target of the attack. At least 18 people died in mud-brick homes that were destroyed by the blasts.


A U.S. intelligence official said Saturday that it was “too early to tell” whether Zawahiri was killed or injured, or whether he was even present at the time of the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing counter-terrorism operations in South Asia.

But Pakistani officials insisted that Zawahiri was not among the dead. The information minister said U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker would be summoned by government officials to explain the attack.

A Pakistani intelligence official involved in the hunt for militants in the Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan border said the U.S. had acted on a false alarm in the Bajaur region.

“As per our investigations, Zawahiri was not amongst the dead nor does any evidence suggest his presence in the area,” said the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the clandestine nature of his work. “Perhaps U.S. intelligence officials got it all wrong, and in that way, so many innocent civilians died.”

A Foreign Ministry statement said a preliminary investigation had found there was “a foreign presence” in the area of the attack, but did not further identify the foreigners. It said that the village was probably targeted from across the border in Afghanistan, and that a government investigation was continuing.

Senior Pakistani military officials said in interviews Saturday that after the attack, government officials repeated their insistence to Washington that U.S. forces not violate the border “in hot pursuit” of suspected militants.


Zawahiri and Bin Laden have long been suspected of hiding out in the rugged, tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It was the second time this month that Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry complained about a U.S. attack on its territory.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry lodged what it called a strong protest against an attack by U.S. forces across the Afghan border, which killed eight Pakistanis. Witnesses in that case said U.S. forces in vehicles and helicopters crossed into Pakistan to carry out the attack. Pakistani officials said U.S. troops had not crossed the border, and that the casualties were caused by fire from across the border in Afghanistan, where the U.S. maintains a sizable troop presence.

Such U.S. military operations are politically dangerous for Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, a close ally in Washington’s war on terrorism. Islamic parties, which form the main opposition in parliament and govern two provinces on the Afghan border, accuse Musharraf of being too willing to accommodate the United States. Islamic militants have made several attempts on Musharraf’s life.

Pushtun tribesmen in the remote Bajaur region of northwest Pakistan said Saturday that no foreigners were in the area before the attack.

“It is a wild theory that some bodies were taken away from the bombed out compounds after the attack, which triggered speculation that the dead might include the Egyptian [deputy] leader of Al Qaeda”, said Anwar Khan, a local tribesman. “It is purportedly true that foreigners were seen in the area in the recent past, but at the moment there are no hide-outs of foreigners or Taliban elements in the area.”


Security forces used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse the protesters, who ransacked the offices of two foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations, as well as the office of the National Commission on Human Development. They also attacked shops in a market, damaging audio and video equipment and an Internet cafe.

Speaking at the rally, National Assembly member Haji Haroon Rashid said that innocent people had been killed in the attack. He denied that any foreigners, including senior Al Qaeda leaders, were present and said that Americans “are responsible for the killing of children and women.”


Times staff writers Paul Watson in New Delhi and Josh Meyer in Washington contributed to this report.