Suspected US missiles kill three, wound five, Pakistan says
Cleric: Islamic law must be enforced
ISLAMABAD - Suspected US missiles leveled a Taliban compound in northwest Pakistan yesterday, officials said, killing three people despite militant threats of a wave of suicide bombings if the strikes don't end.
Meanwhile, a hard-line cleric who mediated a deal that imposes Islamic law in a northwest valley in exchange for peace with the Taliban warned that the Pakistani government must enforce the law, not simply make announcements about it.
Pockets of Pakistan's northwest regions bordering Afghanistan are havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Many are believed to be involved in attacks on US and NATO forces across the border, and American officials say the missile strikes are a key tool in taking them out.
Yesterday's suspected strike occurred in South Waziristan tribal region, the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed to be allied with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Shahab Ali Shah, South Waziristan's top administrative official, said three people died and five were wounded in the Zari Noor village area. The identities of the dead and wounded were not immediately clear.
Haji Gul Zaman, who lives just outside Zari Noor village, said he heard two blasts and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area. Trucks carrying Taliban fighters raced toward the scene, Zaman said.
Since August, the United States has escalated its use of drone-fired missiles along Pakistan's lawless northwestern regions, launching about three dozen. The United States rarely discusses or acknowledges the strikes, which are believed fired by unmanned drones operated by the CIA.
The Pakistani government has demanded an end to the strikes, saying that although they have killed several militant leaders, they also fan anti-American sentiment and violate the country's sovereignty.
The latest strike came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 27 people - most of them security forces - at a checkpoint in the Hangu town area, another rough-and-tumble region in the northwest.
Hakeemullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who has vowed to carry out two suicide attacks a week to press for an end to the missile strikes, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
"We are meeting our pledge. . . . We will intensify our attacks if the drone strikes in the tribal areas do not stop," Mehsud told the Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location.
Under intense international pressure, especially from the United States, Pakistan has tried various tactics to crack down on militancy, including military offensives and negotiations.
It recently agreed to impose Islamic law in the northwest's Swat Valley and surrounding areas in exchange for peace with the Taliban there - a move that riled human rights activists and drew criticism from the White House.
The cleric who mediated that deal demanded the government take meaningful steps to enforce the system over the next month, including setting up proper appeals courts in four days. Pakistani officials have insisted an Islamic judicial system in Swat would not echo the harsh rule of the ousted Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.