80 killed in madrassa raid
* ISPR DG says madrassa was a training camp for foreign and local militants
* Sultan says army confirmed presence of militants before attacking madrassa
* Banned TNSM’s deputy commander, three sons among dead
KHAR: At least 80 people were killed in an early morning airstrike on a madrassa in Bajaur Agency allegedly being used as a training camp for militants, on Monday.
“We were informed about the presence of 70 to 80 miscreants, including some foreigners, who were getting militant training in the madrassa. The army used gunship helicopters and precision weapons in the operation,” Major General Shaukat Sultan, director general of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), said, adding that the attack was ordered after days of surveillance confirmed the information.
Maulvi Liaqat, a deputy commander of the banned pro-Taliban group Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi and head of the madrassa, and his three sons were among the dead, a senior security official told Daily Times, asking not to be named.
Residents told Daily Times that at least three army helicopters bombed the madrassa in Chingai village, 10 kilometres north of Khar and 2.5 kilometres off Damadola, at a time when all those present there were asleep.
The attack is the deadliest since the government launched military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. On January 13 this year, 13 civilians were killed in an airstrike in Damadola village in Bajaur.
Leaders of the PML-N and the PPPP in Bajaur Agency rejected the army’s claim that the madrassa was a training camp for militants. “Only innocent students were killed in the airstrike and claims that foreigners were present there at the time of the attack are false,” said PPPP Bajaur President Akhunzada Chatan.
However, Maj Gen Sultan hit back at the criticism saying: “Why would the army kill innocent people? The government had been warning the madrassa management against sheltering foreign militants, but our warnings were not being taken seriously.” He added that the madrassa was not attacked for any “prized target”, a reference to Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zahawiri.
Tribal sources said that the army action surprised several people as TNSM leader Maulana Faqir Muhammad was reportedly considering a North Waziristan-like accord with the Bajaur political administration and the signing ceremony was to take place on Monday. The attack has dimmed any such prospect for the time being, they added.
Agencies add: The attack sparked angry protests in Chingai, Khar and other Bajaur towns. Several hours after the attack, the bodies of 20 killed tribesmen were lined in a field near the madrassa before an impromptu burial attended by thousands of tribesmen, according to an AP reporter at the scene.
At the madrassa, dozens of villagers collected the remains of another 30 bodies from the rubble of the building.
In Khar, some 2,000 tribesmen and shopkeepers marched through the main street and railed against President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W Bush.
Meanwhile in Karachi, around 200 students belonging to the Islami Jamiat Talaba, youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, burned a US flag outside the press club.