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Upto 50 killed in shelling by fighter aircraft, helicopters in NWA

22 January, 2014

MIRANSHAH: Upto Fifty people were killed and several others sustained injuries in targeted operations by security forces, conducted by fighter aircraft and gunship helicopters, in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal agencies on Tuesday.

For the first time since 2007 when the government signed the peace accord with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led Taliban militants in North Waziristan, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships pounded suspected positions of militants in the Mir Ali subdivision, killing 40 people.

There were conflicting reports about the identity of those killed. Military authorities said all the 40 people killed in the overnight aerial strikes were hardcore militants or their relatives and family members.

However, tribesmen in Mir Ali subdivision insisted that some local villagers, including women, children and elderly people, were also killed in the bombing by the PAF's fighter aircraft and Pakistan Army's helicopter gunships as residential areas were attacked.

Military officials said they had been working for a long time on gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of senior militant leaders involved in the series of terrorist attacks on security forces and civilians in the country.

There were reports that Adnan Rashid, a former PAF employee and the alleged mastermind of the assassination attempt on General Pervez Musharraf when he was ruling the country, was the prime target of security forces.

Some reports said Adnan Rashid was killed along with his wife and children when fighter aircraft struck his house in Khattay Qala in Hamzoni village of Mir Ali subdivision where he was living for the past few months.

However, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid denied these reports and insisted that Adnan Rashid was living with his wife and children in South Waziristan.

"There is no truth in reports about Adnan Rashid's killing. He is alive and was not present in Mir Ali during the bombing by the Pakistani jets on Monday night," Shahidullah Shahid told from an undisclosed location.

Military officials confirmed that Adnan Rashid was their main target. However, they said some other high-value targets in the area were also the focus of their attention.

"There were eight major targets in different villages of Mir Ali. One of them was Adnan. The remaining were leaders of different militant groups that have been organising terrorist attacks in the country," a senior military official told our sources.

Pleading anonymity, he said they would not confirm the killing of Adnan Rashid but could certainly verify that the house where he used to live had been targeted.

"Four bodies of his family members have been recovered from his house in the Hamzoni village but he remained unhurt," the official said.

Military officials said there were strong indications that four top TTP leaders and three German nationals had been killed in the bombing.

"We have confirmed reports that Wali Mehmood Mehsud, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, Noor Badshah Mehsud and Maulvi Farhad, an Uzbek militant leader, were killed in the bombing by the jets. Three German nationals were killed during the follow-up shelling by the helicopter gunships in the morning," a senior military official said.

Wali Mehmood Mehsud had replaced Qari Hussain, the master trainer of suicide bombers who was killed in a US drone strike in Mir Ali in 2012. Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani was the TTP leader in the Frontier Region Jandola and had remained the acting head of the TTP and central Ameer of its Shura when Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack in Miranshah last year.

There was no way to confirm this piece of information from independent sources or the militants.Military authorities did not agree with reports that the bombing was in retaliation to the recent two major attacks on security forces in Bannu and Rawalpindi. Around 40 people, mostly security personnel, were killed and injured in the two attacks for which the TTP, headed by the Afghanistan-based Maulana Fazlullah, had claimed responsibility.

According to sources, the fighter jets started bombing villages in Mir Ali at around midnight on Monday when the people were asleep. Villagers said the air raids started at 11:45pm.Tribal sources said Hamzoni, Essori, Khadi and Nawana villages were first targeted by the fighter jets and later in the morning the army helicopter gunships started shelling.

The sources said that 23 people were killed and 24 others were injured in the air strikes by the jets in the Mir Ali area.

They said 15 people were killed in Khadi village and the remaining people were killed in Hamzoni and Essori villages. In Malik Azhdar village, 12 kilometres from Miranshah, the sources said, 10 people suffered serious injuries in the bombing.Two targets were bombed in Essori, one an old structure also occasionally used as a mosque known as Masjid-e-Noor and the other a house that had been an ice factory in the past. The latter was owned by one Siddiq, the same tribesman who had been accused of giving refuge to al-Qaeda member Hamza Rabia, who was killed in a drone strike in the village in the past.

Reports said it was in Khattay Qala in Hamzoni that a house reportedly under Adnan Rashid's use was hit. This is the village of a militant commander Maulana Sadiq Noor.

A local religious figure, who is also a member of the peace committee and known negotiator between the government and Taliban, said three women and two children were killed while five children were injured when a jet pounded a house in Hamzoni village.

"The 12-year-old boy and 12-month-old baby girl were killed in the bombing. The five children, aged between 1-5 years, were injured. All the injured children were admitted to the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Miranshah," the cleric claimed while requesting anonymity.

He said the family belonged to the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan and had migrated to North Waziristan and settled in Mir Ali when the government launched a military operation in their area in October 2009.

He said several other people injured in the bombing couldn't be shifted to hospital due to the curfew clamped by the local administration from the Esha checkpoint in Miranshah and onwards till Mir Ali.

Some tribesmen in Mir Ali complained that majority of the people came out of their homes in desperation and spent the night in the open along with children when the jets started bombing in the area.

They said dozens of people were seen fleeing their villages due to the growing tension in the area and were moving towards the adjoining Bannu district to escape harm.

However, security officials ruled out that it was the beginning of the long-awaited and discussed military offensive in North Waziristan.

It was for the first time that fighter aircraft conducted aerial strikes since 2007 when the local Taliban headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is not a part of the TTP, made a peace agreement with the government in North Waziristan. The Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, which in the past threatened on several occasions to break its peace agreement with the government, didn't react immediately on the latest action of security forces.

Our Bara correspondent adds: Sixteen militants were killed and eight others were injured when fighter aircraft bombarded the hideouts of the TTP in the Kukikhel area of Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, official sources said.

The sources said the jets pounded the hideouts of TTP in Sekhkot and Dwatoy areas of Tirah Valley, leaving 16 militants dead and eight others injured.The sources said four hideouts of the militants were destroyed in the air strikes.

End.

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