Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs were among about 30 militants killed in a missile attack on a suspected al-Qaida hide-out in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, officials said Wednesday.
Several more militants were wounded Tuesday when three missiles allegedly fired from Afghanistan destroyed an Islamic seminary in the border village of Mami Rogha, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, two intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said Tuesday the explosions were caused when bombs the militants were making at an isolated compound exploded accidentally. He said between 20 and 25 militants died in the blasts.
But Wali Khan, a cleric who lives near Mami Rogha, told the AP that 34 people died in the attack.
He claimed that he had seen "mutilated bodies and body parts" hours after the blast. He gave no details about the slain men, saying only that "we don't agree with the government that they were terrorists."
The two intelligence officials put the toll at about 30, saying the slain men included Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Arabs, local militants and some Afghans.
They said the seminary was used as a training facility by al-Qaida and local militants.
"Their bodies were retrieved by their supporters and buried in some unknown place," one of the officials said. He said he had obtained his information from local residents and other sources close to the militants.
The compound that came under attack is located about three kilometers (two miles) inside Pakistan and is surrounded by forests, the official said.
He said nearly three dozen militants were sitting in an open area of the seminary when the attack happened, but could not confirm exactly who fired the missiles, although both officials claimed the missiles came from Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. David Accetta, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said Tuesday he was "not aware of any reports" of missiles being fired from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
"Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and we respect sovereignty," he said.
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are believed to shelter in North Waziristan, where last September Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, signed a peace deal with Taliban sympathizers as part of its bid to bring the lawless region under control.
Critics, however, say the agreement may have allowed militants a freer hand to stage attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Insecurity and obstruction by officials make the area off-limits to all but the most intrepid outsider, and opposition lawmakers on Wednesday protested the lack of information about the incident, staging a brief walkout from the national parliament in Islamabad.
Human Rights Watch said the government should allow an independent investigation or face growing speculation that it "has something to hide," such as civilian casualties.
"In the absence of a credible account of what happened, legitimate anti-terrorist efforts will only be undermined," Ali Dayan Hasan, the New York-based rights group's Asia researcher, said.
Several raids on suspected terror targets in Pakistan have apparently been launched from Afghanistan.
In January 2006, a CIA Predator drone hit houses in a Pakistani border village in Bajur, a tribal region north of Waziristan, where al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri was expected to visit, Pakistani intelligence officials said. Al-Zawahri escaped injury but 13 other people were killed.
The U.S. government never confirmed its involvement in that strike.
In December 2005, a Hellfire missile allegedly fired by an unmanned American warplane killed an Egyptian al-Qaida figure, Hamza Rabia, in North Waziristan. Pakistan's army, however, maintained that Rabia had died in a bomb-making accident.
Pakistani forces have also raided suspected militant hide-outs using U.S.-supplied helicopters.
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Qadimi signed an agreement on July 26 to formally end the USA's military presence in the country by the end of the year