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U.S. missile kills two children in Pakistan: Report

By Haji Mujtaba

12/05/05 "
Reuters" -- - HAISORI, Pakistan, Dec 4 - Pakistani tribesmen on Sunday displayed parts of a U.S.-marked missile they said hit a house and killed two boys, evidence at odds with the government which says an explosion there killed a top al Qaeda commander.

Whatever the cause of the blast, the death of Abu Hamza Rabia would be a coup for Pakistan and the United States which describe him as al Qaeda's chief of international operations.

But his body has not been found.

Sat amid the ruins of his mud and concrete-walled home in the restive North Waziristan tribal agency, Haji Mohammad Siddiq told Reuters his 17-year old son and an eight-year-old nephew were killed in a missile attack, but denied there were any militants present.

"I don't know anything about them -- there were no foreigners in my house," Siddiq said. "I have nothing to do with foreigners or al Qaeda.

"We were sleeping when I heard two explosions in my guest room. When I went there I saw my son, Abdul Wasit, and my eight-year-old nephew, Noor Aziz, were dead," said the tall, moustachioed tribesman as he received condolences from a stream of relatives and neighbours.

Pakistan, sensitive to domestic public opinion, has denied U.S. drone aircraft have carried out missile strikes on its soil in the past and Washington has declined to comment.

But tribesmen in Haisori showed U.S.-marked fragments of missiles they said hit the village early on Thursday. One piece of casing clearly bore the words US and MISSILE.

"I heard more explosions and went out to the courtyard, and when I looked up at the sky, I saw a white drone," said Siddiq. "I saw a flash of light come from the drone followed by explosions."

The tribesman, in his 50s, has been asked to appear later this week before a court convened by government-appointed tribal agency officials.

"200 PERCENT SURE"

President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday he was "200 percent" sure Rabia was dead.

But confirmation of Rabia's death is based on intelligence reports and message intercepts, intelligence sources said, and Pakistani security forces have still to find a body.

Officials say Rabia's corpse, along with those of two comrades, was removed by other fighters and buried secretly.

An Arab television channel, al Arabiya, received a telephone call from an unidentified caller denying Rabia was dead.

U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington confirmed the significance of Rabia's death, but gave no comment on how he might have been killed.

Rabia's death would have a profound impact on al Qaeda's ability to maintain its standing as the pre-eminent global militant organisation, as most veterans had been killed or captured, according to Rohan Gunaratna, security analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

"He was in many ways the last leader to have an understanding of how the network operates outside Pakistan and Afghanistan," Gunaratna said.

U.S. drones are reported to have operated in the area before, and in May a drone missile attack was reported to have killed al Qaeda bombmaker, Haitham al-Yemeni, in North Waziristan.

Pakistan denied an attack happened while the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment.

If a U.S. Predator drone did carry out Thursday's attack, neither the United States or Pakistan would be likely to admit it. Although Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terrorism, it refuses to allow foreign troops on its soil, particularly the sensitive semi-autonomous tribal areas.

Hundreds of militants fled to Pakistan after U.S.-led forces overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban government in late 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden himself is believed to have passed through North Waziristan during his escape.

Copyright Reuters

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