PESHAWAR, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) – A suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan killed a senior member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network early on Thursday, Pakistani and Afghan sources said.
It was the first drone strike in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation since Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on November 1 in an attack that sparked a fierce power struggle within the fragmented insurgency.
Maulvi Ahmad Jan, an adviser to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the feared head of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, was in the madrassa when at least three rockets hit his room in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa just before sunrise.
“Yes it’s true, we lost another valuable figure this morning,” a senior Haqqani official told Reuters.
A Pakistani intelligence source said that Sirajuddin Haqqani himself was spotted at the same seminary just two days earlier.
The group is one of the main enemies of U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan, frequently launching attacks on foreign troops from mountainous hideouts in Pakistan’s lawless North Waziristan region.
But it has been under considerable strain this month since its chief financier, Nasiruddin Haqqani, was shot dead in Islamabad on November 11. No one claimed responsibility for that shooting.
A source with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence agency confirmed Jan’s death. At least four other people also died in the attack but dozens of students sleeping in other rooms were unhurt, police and militant sources said.
Washington has long urged Islamabad to crack down on the group. Nasiruddin’s father was once an ally of the United States during the rebellion in Afghanistan against the Soviets.
Thursday’s missiles hit only two of the nine rooms in the seminary where Jan was staying with several other militants.
“Only the two rooms where Maulvi Ahmad Jan and other Afghan Taliban leaders were staying were hit by the drone. The remaining seven rooms remained intact,” a local resident said.
Most drone strikes occur in the lawless North Waziristan region where Taliban insurgents are holed up, and are rare in densely populated places such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The attack took place a day after Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz’s remarks.
(Reporting by Saud Mehsud, Jibran Ahmad and Haji Mujtaba in Pakistan and Hamid Shalizi in Afghanistan; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Clarence Fernandez)
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Missiles believed to have been fired by an American drone struck an Islamic seminary in northern Pakistan on Thursday, in a rare strike outside the country’s volatile tribal regions.
The attack, in the Hangu district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, killed six people and wounded five, including several members of the Haqqani militant network, according to a senior Pakistani security official.
The attack came as Pakistani officials and politicians from across the political spectrum have intensified criticism of the American drone attacks, particularly after a strike on Nov. 1 killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and disrupted the government’s plan to open peace negotiations with the militants.
The drone fired missiles into the seminary, near the border with Afghanistan, around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, Iftikhar Ahmad, a local police officer, said in a telephone interview. Local officials said that drones had been flying over the area since Monday.
“The bodies have been mutilated and burned beyond recognition,” he said. “We are investigating the matter.”
The network, which operates on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, is one of the most lethal groups of the Taliban insurgency. This month, unidentified gunmen killed Nasiruddin Haqqani, a son of the group’s founder and one of its chief fund-raisers, in Pakistan.
Another security official said that four of those killed were Afghan militants belonging to the Haqqani network, including Ahmad Jan, a senior network leader who also looked after finances for the group. The two others killed in the strike were students at the seminary, which was in a small Afghan refugee camp in Tandora.
The drone strike on Thursday happened a day after Sartaj Aziz, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told a senate foreign affairs committee in Islamabad that the United States had assured Pakistan that it would halt such strikes during negotiations with Pakistani militants.
Mr. Aziz did not give a time frame for when the proposed peace talks with militants in the tribal region might begin. Earlier talks broke off after the strike that killed Mr. Mehsud.
The Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, which governs Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, had already called for a protest on Saturday to pressure Mr. Sharif to halt NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan to get the United States to stop drone strikes.
Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on Thursday, Imran Khan, the former cricket star who leads the party, sharply criticized both the United States and the Pakistani government.
Mr. Khan said his party would stage a mass protest against drones in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and reiterated his vow to block NATO supplies. “I urge all people to gather in Peshawar on Saturday and show that we are honorable people,” he said.
Salman Masood and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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