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Pakistan PM: CIA attack reports 'bizarre'

CNN | January 23 2006

No evidence that top al Qaeda leaders were at target, he says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as "bizarre" a U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There is no evidence, as of half an hour ago, that there were any other people there," Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"The area does see movement of people from across the border. But we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there."

U.S. counterterrorism officials have said they believe the January 13 attack killed four to eight al Qaeda-affiliated "foreigners" attending a dinner meeting. Knowledgeable sources have said that their bodies were removed from the scene by comrades and buried elsewhere. (Full story)

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have taken to the streets in cities nationwide to express outrage about the attack, which killed more than a dozen civilians, including women and children. (Full story)

Pakistani officials originally put the death toll at 18 civilians; Aziz cited 13 deaths Sunday.

Target: Terrorist doctor
U.S. officials have said the attack was intended to kill Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A counterterrorism official said Abu Khabab -- an al Qaeda operative who was named Midhat Mursi and also known as "the bombmaker" -- "was thought to have been in the vicinity" when the missiles struck the home in Damadola, Pakistan.

The U.S. network ABC News reported on its Web site that the attack killed Khabab, quoting "Pakistani authorities." However a number of Pakistani officials have told CNN they cannot confirm the ABC report.

Aziz said Sunday, "If you just reflect on what happened, first -- we heard that there was a dinner meeting with all the seniors -- I think that's a bizarre thought, because these people don't get together for dinner in a terrain or environment like that."

"Second, we heard that al-Zawahiri was there," Aziz said. "Now we are hearing about this person who's a chemicals weapons expert. We don't know who was there. We don't know when they came, if at all. But, if they were there, we will find out because our people are investigating, they are going through all the evidence available, and once we find out we'll share it with the world."

'We had no idea'
Since the attack, U.S. intelligence analysts have been waiting for information about al-Zawahiri, and officials have said they expect to learn he was not killed in the attack.

Aziz said the United States launched the airstrike on Pakistani soil without having first consulted with the Pakistani government.

"We had no idea that this would take place," he said.

Aziz said the attack violated a U.S.-Pakistani agreement that calls for the countries to collaborate with each other before any such attack.

Last Sunday, U.S. politicians expressed regret over the killings, but said the airstrike was justified by the erroneous belief that a top al Qaeda leader was among the group. (Full story)

U.S. authorities believe al-Zawahiri, 54, a doctor from a prominent Egyptian family, helped mastermind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. He has been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. government has put up a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

'He could be anywhere'
Aziz also disputed a report in Sunday editions of The New York Times that said al Qaeda supporters, foreign fighters and Taliban remnants control the remote region.

About 80,000 Pakistani troops in the area have captured around 600 al Qaeda members there, including senior leaders, Aziz said. "The reason we've done that is because this is a porous border. It's a very tough terrain. And we want to restrict movement of people who are undesirable to our security."

Aziz said none of the forces searching for bin Laden knows where he might be. "We and the rest of the world has no clue where he or his associates are," Aziz said. "He could be anywhere."

About the bin Laden audiotape released last week, Aziz said he has "no idea" when or where it was recorded.

"All we can gather from the tape is that he's trying to tell the world that he's around and get his movement energized or motivated."


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