INTERNATIONAL

Top Al-Qaeda operative killed in Pakistan

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf has confirmed that a top Syrian Al-Qaeda operative was killed in an explosion in North Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan on Thursday.

Gen. Musharraf told reporters on his arrival in Kuwait on an official visit on Saturday that the operative identified as Hamza Rabia died in an explosion. "It is a place called Mirali, or little north of this town, that's the place," he said.

Separately, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao also confirmed that "Hamza was killed on Thursday in an explosion at Mirali in North Waziristan." The Minister told journalists, "Five people were killed in the explosion and we have identified that one of them was Hamza Rabia.

There were two other foreigners but we do not know their identities," he said.

However the body of Hamza has not been recovered. Authorities presume that probably it was taken away by the militants.

The Minister claimed the identification was made by intelligence through its sources.

Conflicting versions

Reports from Waziristan said Hamza was among the five killed in the missile attack on a mud-house in Asoray village in Mirali tehsil, to the east of North Waziristan's regional headquarters, Miranshah.

It is believed among those killed were three foreigners of West Asian origin. While the administration in Miranshah claimed the casualties were the result of an explosion inside the house, tribal witnesses said that a hail of missiles fired from unmanned air vehicle struck the house.

Hamza had escaped a similar attack at his location in Mosaki in Mirali on November 5 that had left eight people dead including his wife and children.

Hamza was said to have been slightly wounded in the leg.

North Waziristan has been theatre of guerilla warfare between Pakistan forces and Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants for nearly two years.