U.S. missiles kill at least 9 militants in Pakistan

( Reuter )- A U.S. aircraft fired missiles on Sunday at a house in a Pakistani region known as a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, killing at least 9 militants and wounding nine, an intelligence official said.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman said the missiles were not fired by any military aircraft, leaving open the possibility it could have been a CIA-operated pilotless drone aircraft.

The intelligence official said four missiles were fired at the house in Shahnawaz Kheil Dhoog, a village near the town of Wana in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, just after 3 p.m. (1000 GMT).

"It was apparently an American plane that fired precision guided missiles at the house," the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Three foreigners, an Arab and two Turkmen, were among those killed, according to the intelligence official.

Villagers put the death toll at 18.

"Except the boundary walls, the house has been destroyed," said a senior district government official who declined to be identified.

"The place has been used for some time as a militant hideout," he said.

The attack came a day after a Turkish woman was killed and five Americans were among 11 people wounded in a bomb attack at a restaurant popular with foreigners in the capital, Islamabad.

A spokesman for Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the Islamabad bomb, the latest in a surge of attacks that began in July after troops stormed a radical mosque complex in Islamabad.

Hundreds of people, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, have been killed in bomb attacks since then, raising fears for stability in the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

U.S. forces have used drones to fire missiles at militants on the Pakistani side of the border several times in recent years.

A missile believed fired by a U.S. drone killed 13 suspected militants in South Waziristan in late February. On January 28, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said Pakistani forces had not conducted any operation in the area. He did not know who carried out the strike or what type of weapon was used.

Neither U.S. nor Pakistani authorities officially confirm U.S. missile attacks on Pakistani territory.

There is widespread public opposition in Pakistan to the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan says it would not allow foreign military operations on its soil.

Many al Qaeda members, including Uzbeks and Arabs, and Taliban militants took refuge in North and South Waziristan, as well as in other areas on the Pakistani side of the border after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

From sanctuaries in the lawless border belt, the Taliban have orchestrated their insurgency against the Afghan government and the U.S. and NATO forces supporting it.

Increasingly, so-called Pakistani Taliban have been mounting attacks in Pakistani towns and cities, many aimed at security forces and other government targets.

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for an umbrella organization of Pakistani militant groups, said the Pakistani Taliban were responsible for the blast in Islamabad on Saturday and twin blasts in the city of Lahore on Tuesday that killed 24 people.

"These attacks were a reaction to operations being carried out by the military against our people. We will continue this if they don't stop killing our people," Omar said by telephone.

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