Pakistan on Monday rejected U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's contention that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is in this country. Reacting to Ms. Clinton's remarks made in India, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan had no information of his presence in the country and “if anyone has any information in this regard, they should share it with us'”.
In what the U.S. describes as a ‘townterview’ of Ms. Clinton with NDTV in Kolkata, she said: “There are several significant [al-Qaeda] leaders still on the run. Mr. Zawahiri, who inherited the leadership from bin Laden is somewhere, we believe, in Pakistan.”
Prior to the U.S. raid in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, Washington used to similarly claim that Osama bin Laden was somewhere in Pakistan. And, Islamabad would, in turn, ask for information regarding his presence in the country.
Security personnel killed
In a related development, nearly a dozen security personnel were killed in the Miranshah area of North Waziristan over the past two days. While nine security personnel were killed in a gun battle with terrorists on Sunday, the beheaded bodies of two Army soldiers were found on Monday.
According to officials, terrorists had been firing upon a picket of the Frontier Constabulary for the past few days. On Sunday, the terrorists attacked the picket during convoy movement; resulting in an intense gun battle. The Army claimed that heavy casualties were inflicted on the terrorists in this crossfire during, which helicopter gunships were also apparently called in.
Local reports suggested that this was a rare incident of a gun battle between soldiers and terrorists in Miranshah - the main town of North Waziristan, where the U.S. has been pressurising Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network, which is held responsible for many of the attacks inside Afghanistan.
Islamabad has fought back the U.S. pressure on the premise that the Haqqanis have never attacked Pakistan. Also, Pakistan insists that it cannot afford to open too many fronts against terrorists though the general perception is that Islamabad's reluctance to proceed against the Haqqanis is because it wants a foothold in Kabul post-NATO withdrawal through the Afghan Taliban.
Weinstein appeals to Obama
Meanwhile, a 40-second undated video was posted on jihadist fora by al-Qaeda on Sunday showing abducted American national Warren Weinstein appealing to U.S. President Barack Obama to accept the demands of his kidnappers, which include the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Yousef and Sayyid Nosair, who are linked to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. The 60-year-old was kidnapped from his Lahore residence on August 13.
In December, Mr. Zawahiri had apparently posted a message stating that Mr. Weinstein would be released if the U.S. stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. He had also demanded the release of all al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects around the world.