Suspected U.S. drone hits Islamic seminary in Pakistan, killing six
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suspected U.S. drone targeted an Islamic seminary early Thursday in northwest Pakistan, killing six people in an attack likely to inflame tensions over the CIA drone campaign.
According to local officials, three missiles were fired into a madrassa in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province about 5 a.m. local time, a rare strike outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Umar Khan Bangash, a local politician who lives in the area, said the madrassa, constructed from mud, was destroyed. Four adult students and two teachers were killed, according to a local intelligence official.
The seminary is frequently used by refugees from Afghanistan, as well as suspected militants affiliated with the Haqqani network, which has ties to al-Qaeda and carries out attacks inside Afghanistan.
Local intelligence officials identified two of the dead as Maulvi Ahmad Jan and Maulvi Hameedullah, who they said were close associates of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the Haqqani network.
But officials said Haqqani was not in the seminary at the time of the attack. The seminary has about 15 rooms, but only one room was struck by a missile, officials said.
About 80 students escaped unharmed.
Citing intelligence sources, the Reuters news agency reported that Haqqani was spotted at the seminary as recently as two days ago.
A local official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could talk freely about the matter, told The Washington Post that he believes “an important figure” had recently been at the location but had left before the attack.
Haqqani is wanted by the United States for a 2008 attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six people, including one American, according to the FBI.
In recent weeks, the Haqqani network has been under increased pressure in Pakistan, where it operates training camps and has long sought refuge.
Under mysterious circumstances, unidentified gunmen shot and killed another senior leader of the group, Nasiruddin Haqqani two weeks ago as he left a market on the outskirts of Islamabad. The slain leader was Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother. Nasiruddin Haqqani’s body was removed from the scene before local police arrived and was buried by his relatives, Pakistani officials said. It is unclear who killed him.
U.S. officials had no immediate comment Thursday on the missile attack on the seminary. But the incident is likely to further complicate relations between the United States and some Pakistani leaders.
Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first inside a Pakistani province in more than five years. It comes at a time of already heightened tension between the United States and officials and residents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
After a U.S. drone killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban three weeks ago, political leaders in Pakistan vowed to halt NATO convoys that travel through the province to and from landlocked Afghanistan.
Imran Khan, leader of the Movement for Justice party that controls the province’s coalition government, is holding a well-publicized session with other political leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to discuss their strategy.
Shireen Mazari, a spokeswoman for Khan’s party, said the timing of the latest strike was “a declaration of war against the people of Pakistan.”
“The time has come for the Pakistan government to demonstrate through actions that there is zero tolerance for drone attacks,” Mazari said.
But The Post reported last month that Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have been regularly briefed, and in some cases have authorized, U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has denied knowing of any coordination between the United States and Pakistan to carry out drone strikes. Sharif has vowed to end the strikes and has formally protested to the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad over the issue.
Sharif is unlikely, however, to authorize the suspension of NATO supply routes. Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s foreign policy adviser, told Pakistani lawmakers Wednesday that Sharif intends to honor the agreement that permits NATO to use Pakistani roads through at least 2015.
But local officials accused the United States of using the drone campaign to attempt to destabilize the country.
In recent days, provincial officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have struggled to contain sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslim residents. At least three people have been killed, causing the army to deploy in several cities.
“I don’t understand why a drone at this time,” said Sheraz Paracha, a spokesman for the chief minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “This will further incite the people here.”
Craig reported from Kabul.