Iraqi al Qaida man among 15 militants killed in drone strikes

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A Muhammad

Peshawar, Feb 21 (PTI) US drones today carried out thefirst attacks in Pakistan''s tribal belt since an Americanofficial was arrested for gunning down two men last month,killing 15 rebels, including an Iraqi operative of al Qaida,officials said.

In the first attack, unmanned spy planes fired fourmissiles at a compound in Kara Panga village near Wana, theheadquarters of the volatile South Waziristan region, earlythis morning.

The Iraqi operative named Abu Zaid Al-IraqiAl-Baghdadi, was killed in the attack along with two Arabs,two Turkmen and two Punjabi militants, intelligence officialstold PTI.

Eight Taliban fighters were killed in the secondattack tonight, during which drones targeted a militantcompound in Dao Tappi village, located seven kilometres eastof Miranshah, a key town of North Waziristan Agency.

The drones fired four missiles at the compound,officials said.

The area is considered a hub of al Qaida and Talibanelements fighting NATO and allied forces across the border inAfghanistan.

Intelligence officials said the Iraqi al Qaidaoperative killed in the first attack was aged between 35 and40 years and looked after the terrorist group''s finances inPakistan''s tribal region.

Abu Zaid Al-Iraqi came to Afghanistan in 2007 andshifted to South Waziristan Agency the following year, theysaid.

He spoke Pashto and tribal dialects fluently and hadblended in with the tribal society, the officials said.

"No one knew that he was a foreigner as his accentwhile speaking Pushto was excellent," an official said.

Taliban and al Qaida elements are active inWazirsitan, from where militants launch cross-border attackson US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Today''s missile strikes were the first since USofficial Raymond Davis was arrested in Lahore on January 27for shooting and killing two armed men he said were trying torob him.

There had been speculation that the US had put dronestrikes on hold to curb rising anti-American sentiments inPakistan as it worked for the release of Davis.

The last drone strike before Davis'' arrest was carriedout on January 23.

The CIA had significantly stepped up the missilestrikes in mid-2010 after Western intelligence agenciesuncovered a plot by militants based in Pakistan''s tribal beltto attack European cities.

The arrest of Davis triggered a diplomatic row betweenPakistan and the US, which has insisted that the Americanshould be released on grounds of diplomatic immunity.

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