Masses protest Pakistani hit on alleged al-Qaida hide-out

Tuesday's attack in tribal region near Afghan border kills eight; militants: "We will take revenge within 10 to 15 days."

paki against qaida 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
paki against qaida 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of religious hard-liners chanting "Jihad!" staged rallies in a Pakistani town against an army airstrike on a suspected al-Qaida hide-out and claimed it had killed innocent laborers, police and witnesses said Wednesday. In the protest, about 1,000 supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) party marched through Tank, a city about 160 kilometers north of the scene of Tuesday's attack in the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border that the army said killed eight militants. "They killed innocent laborers. There were no foreigners or [militant] training centers," witnesses quoted rally leader Maulana Tahir as saying. Activists of the JUI, a pro-Taliban Islamic group in the provincial government, chanted, "Jihad! [holy war]" during the protest and "Death to Musharraf!" - referring to Pakistan's military leader, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally. A tribal militant vowed to take revenge for the airstrike, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported on its Urdu-language news Web site Wednesday. "We will take revenge within 10 to 15 days," the BBC quoted Baitullah Mehsud as saying. Tuesday's operation has forced him to fight the Pakistani army, Mehsud said, according to the report. Mehsud is believed to be the leader of a band of militants from the area that was the scene of Tuesday's bombing. In February 2005, Mehsud was granted amnesty after promising that he would not attack security forces or harbor foreign militants. Meanwhile, fighters targeted a roadside security post in the region with six rockets, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of his job. The rockets landed in a field and no one was hurt, he said. The rocket attack before dawn on Wednesday near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, was the first such incident after Mehsud entered into a peace agreement with the government, the intelligence official said, suggesting it might have been carried out in reaction to Tuesday's bombing. It was unknown whether the attack was linked to the alleged threat by Mehsud. In other protests against the airstrike, about 300 college students burned tires and blocked a road that links Tank with Wana, said police officer Pir Masood Shah. Most shops in Tank were closed during the protests. Police and security forces patrolled the streets, but there was no violence. In the eastern city of Multan, at least 60 university students, chanting "Death to Bush!" burned an American flag to protest the airstrike. "Our rulers do not hesitate to kill their own citizens on the wishes of America," said Sohaib Amar Siddiqi, leader of Islami Jamiat Talba, an Islamic students' group that organized the protest. Musharraf has made Pakistan a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, but has come under growing pressure from the US to deter cross-border attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida militants from its tribal areas into Afghanistan.