Blast Kills at Least 20 in Pakistan

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

KABUL, June 19 -- At least 20 people were killed Tuesday in an explosion in a Pakistani tribal area, where residents reported seeing an aerial drone firing at least two missiles immediately before the blast.

Pakistani military officials said that the explosion happened at a terrorist training camp and that militants had been attempting to build bombs when they accidentally set them off. Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, a Pakistani military spokesman, denied that the blast had come from a missile strike. "It was not from outside," he said.

But Pakistani television stations, citing intelligence sources, reported that an attack had been launched from within Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are operating.

The United States has previously carried out attacks against suspected terrorists in the tribal areas, even though the Pakistani government officially forbids foreign troops to conduct military operations on its soil.

Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, said late Tuesday that he had no information on the blast. Army Lt. Col. David A. Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman in Bagram, Afghanistan, said: "We were not involved with any strike into Pakistan. . . . U.S. forces did not fire into Pakistan with missiles or airstrikes or anything else."

The explosion took place just across the border from Afghanistan near the village of Mami Rogha, which is about 25 miles west of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

Local residents said that they had seen a drone above the area immediately before the blast and that at least two missiles fired from the drone had destroyed a religious school and several adjacent houses, according to Rahimullah Yousefzai, a Peshawar-based journalist.

Yousefzai said that 24 coffins had been ordered from Miran Shah and that the death toll could rise. There might have been as many as 50 people in the school at the time of the blast, including children.

Yousefzai said residents also reported finding leaflets over the weekend that depicted a bomber plane and carried a warning in Pashto that they would be attacked if they failed to abandon their support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The relatively lawless tribal areas have become a major focus of U.S. counterterrorism activities because top Taliban and al-Qaeda figures are believed to be using the areas as a refuge. Last year, a U.S. drone fired missiles into a Pakistani village in an attempt to hit al-Qaeda's deputy chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Thirteen civilians died in that attack.

The explosion Tuesday took place not far from an Afghan village that was the target of an air assault by U.S.-led forces Sunday. That attack killed several militants but also took the lives of seven children who were inside a religious school. The U.S.-led coalition has apologized but blamed militants for hiding among civilians.

Special correspondent Shahzad Khurram in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and staff writer Thomas E. Ricks and staff researcher Rena Kirsch in Washington contributed to this report.

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