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Explosions kill suspected insurgents in Pakistan

The Baltimore Sun

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- About 30 suspected Islamic insurgents were killed yesterday when explosions ripped through a compound near the Afghan border that was described by Pakistani intelligence officials as a militant training camp.

The compound, which housed a madrassa, or Muslim seminary, was in North Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal area along the Afghan frontier that is a sanctuary for Taliban and militants linked to al-Qaida.

Tribal sources said they believed that the blasts, which occurred about 10:30 a.m. in the district of Data Khel about two miles from the Afghan border, were caused by missiles fired either by an airborne drone or by Western forces from across the border. A U.S. military spokesman said he had no knowledge of such a strike.

Pakistani officials denied that any U.S. or Pakistani military strike had occurred. A Pakistani army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Arshad Waheed, suggested that the blasts had been caused by bomb-making gone awry.

In Afghanistan, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces, Lt. Col. David Accetta, said he was not aware of any reports of U.S. missiles being fired at targets inside Pakistan.

Previous strikes on compounds in the tribal borderlands have been widely attributed to the U.S. military. But such attacks are not acknowledged as a matter of policy because they would be seen as an impingement on the sovereignty of Pakistan.

The Pakistani government, led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan. But military moves against militants on Pakistani soil are highly unpopular domestically, and Musharraf's military-led government is already in a precarious state because of a rising pro-democracy movement.

The Pakistani president has been under pressure from the Bush administration to do more to rein in militants in the largely lawless tribal areas, where U.S. intelligence officials say insurgents have been able to regroup and rearm.

Last fall, Musharraf's government struck a deal with insurgent-supported tribal leaders in North Waziristan. Under it, Pakistani troops halted active pursuit of militants, who in turn were supposed to refrain from attacks on allied troops across the frontier in Afghanistan.

The accord was widely seen as a failure, leading to a spike in cross-border attacks.

The tribal borderlands have been the scene of several strikes, apparently by unmanned drones, which appeared to have been beyond the capability of the Pakistan military and which targeted high-profile al-Qaida figures.

A Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the compound targeted yesterday consisted of three houses and a tent and that about three dozen people were inside at the time of the blasts.

Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King write for the Los Angeles Times.

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