KHAR, Pakistan -- Thousands of people favoring the Taliban denounced Pakistan's air raid on a seminary that killed 80 people, accusing the United States of involvement in the attack and vowing yesterday to send waves of suicide bombers to retaliate.
A security official said Al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the purported London airline bomb mastermind had both visited the religious school in the northern Bajur district several times, but they were not there at the time of the raid on Monday.
Pakistan's military said the school, known as a madrassa, was destroyed by missile-firing helicopters because it was preparing dozens of students to launch attacks in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan.
The carnage inflicted in the Bajur village of Chingai and conflicting claims over whether the victims were militants or madrassa students set the scene for widespread unrest in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country of more than 150 million people whose military-run government is a close US ally in the war on terrorism.
In Bajur's main town of Khar, near Chingai, 20,000 tribesmen, many brandishing firearms, railed against the president, General Pervez Musharraf, and President Bush and called for their deaths.
"God is great!" "Death to Bush! Death to Musharraf!" and "Anyone who is a friend of America is a traitor!" they chanted.
A local pro-Taliban elder, Inayatur Rahman, told the crowd that he had prepared a "squad of suicide bombers" to target Pakistani security forces in the way militants are attacking in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We will carry out these suicide attacks soon," he said, asking the crowd if they approved. The angrycrowd yelled back, "Yes!"
The rally also adopted a verbal resolution to stone to death anyone found spying for the Pakistani Army or the US government.
Smaller rallies were held in other Pakistani cities, including Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, Quetta and the capital, Islamabad. Protesters burned US flags and effigies of Bush.
, Musharraf has been under US and Afghan pressure to crack down on militants operating along the Pakistan-Afghan frontier where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants are believed to roam freely.
Musharraf rejects assertions that his government does too little to crush militants on Pakistan's side of the border and says the military has captured hundreds of Al Qaeda suspects and handed them over to US authorities in return for millions of dollars in rewards.
Many observers criticized Pakistan for using extreme force against the madrassa.
Ali Dayan Hasan, a South Asia representative for Human Rights Watch, accused Pakistani authorities of "persistent use of excessive and disproportionate force."
Pakistan's military said its helicopters had fired five missiles into the madrassa, flattening the building and killing 80 people inside. Among the dead was Liaquat Hussain, a fugitive cleric.
Another Zawahri lieutenant, Faqir Mohammed, left the madrassa 30 minutes before the strike, according to an official.
Locals said that unmanned US Predator drones were flying above the village before the missile strikes. Pakistan and US military officials denied any US involvement, saying the operation had been conducted fully by Pakistan.
In January, a US drone fired a missile targeting Zawahri in Damadola, near Chingai, missing the Al Qaeda No. 2.
Among the dead from the Damadola attack was believed to have been Al Qaeda's operational commander in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, an Egyptian identified as Abu Ubaida.
But yesterday, a Pakistani security official said both Zawahri and Abu Ubaida had visited the bombed seminary several times, but were not in the building at the time of the attack on Monday.
The official also revealed that Abu Ubaida was the previously unidentified Al Qaeda leader who had masterminded the alleged London terror plot, foiled in August, to blow up trans-Atlantic passenger jets.