A suspected US missile strike killed two people in Pakistan near the Afghan border, officials and a witness said yesterday, as two prominent US senators visited Islamabad amid flaring tensions over the Mumbai attacks in India.
The Monday night strike in Tabi Tolkhel village, in the North Waziristan tribal region, appeared to be the latest in a surge of alleged US missile attacks on militant targets in Pakistan’s northwest border region, long bedeviled by al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists. More than 30 have been reported since August.
It also was the latest example of how militancy and the fight against it is engulfing this nuclear-armed Muslim nation from all sides.
India blames a Pakistan-based militant group for the attacks in Mumbai that killed more 160 people, and the US has joined in the international chorus demanding that Pakistan crack down on violent extremists in its territory.
The missile strikes have long indicated US impatience with Pakistani efforts.
US Senator John Kerry, the next Foreign Relations Committee chairman, was in Pakistan yesterday.
A number of US officials have visited India and Pakistan since the attacks in India’s commercial capital last month.
Like Kerry, Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond also arrived on Monday for meetings with top Pakistanis, US embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said without elaborating.
The latest suspected US strike set a house on fire, said Ajab Khan, a village resident who went to the scene.
He said he saw two bodies brought out and three wounded people taken away in a vehicle. Suspected Taliban militants surrounded the house, Khan said — a common occurrence after such strikes.
Three local intelligence officials confirmed the account, citing informants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Pakistan routinely protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, saying they inflame anti-US sentiment. US officials rarely acknowledge or comment on individual strikes, many of which are said to originate from CIA-run unmanned drones.
However, US leaders have previously said the strikes have helped kill some important militant leaders who use Pakistani territory as safe havens from which to plot attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Monday that Pakistan would not let British investigators question suspects it detains over the Mumbai attacks, turning down a request from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Gilani said in parliament that he had also told Brown that “if there were any proofs, these persons will be prosecuted under the law of Pakistan,” Gilani’s office said.
Pakistan has pledged full cooperation with the investigation, arrested at least two key suspects and clamped down on an Islamic charity the UN branded a front for terrorism.
Brown said cooperation among investigators was vital to defeat transnational terrorism and that three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated in Britain had links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Brown also has asked India to let British police question the only gunman captured alive during the Mumbai attacks. India has made no public response.