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Al Qaeda No 2 escapes US airstrike

Last updated on: January 14, 2006 23:47 IST

Terrorist outifit al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, has escaped the United States airstrike in Pakistan targeted at him, a senior Pakistani official said on Saturday.

Friday's airstrike had killed at least 18 people, including women and childrenin a village near the Afghan border

CNN had earlier quoted sources as saying that the Central Intelligence Agency had ordered the airstrike on buildings after receiving intelligence that Zawahri was in a village near the border with Afghanistan.

However, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told mediapersons that Pakistan had no information on the matter and was investigating the report.

Pakistan also condemned the loss of life in the incident.

"We deeply regret that civilian lives have been lost in an incident in Bajur agency. While the act is highly condemnable, we have been for a long time striving to rid all our tribal areas of foreign intruders who have been responsbile for all the misery and violence in the region. This situation has to be brought to an end," Rashid said.

"It is also the responsibility of the people of the area to cooperate with government in flushing out militants so that complete peace can prevail in the area," he said, adding, "We want to assure the people that we will not allow such incidents to reoccur."

Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and the Egyptian-born Zawahri have eluded capture since US-led forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban government in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

A spokesman at the US Central Command in Florida, the military command responsible for the region, said there had been no official report of such an attack.

"At this time, there is nothing in the operational reporting to suggest that this attack or incident occurred from a US Central Command perspective,'' said Major Chris Karns.

A Pakistani security official and residents of the region said earlier that US aircraft from Afghanistan had killed 18 people, including women and children, when they fired missiles at pro-Taliban Islamists in the Bajaur tribal region.

Residents of Bajaur, opposite Afghanistan's insurgent-troubled Kunar province, said the aircraft had fired on the village of Damadola at about 0330 hrs IST Friday.

With PTI inputs