Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pakistani intelligence officials say two suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed seven militants in the country's tribal region.

The two officials say the Sunday evening strikes also wounded five militants in Spalgah village near Miran Shah in North Waziristan.

They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with their agency's policy.

The officials say two missiles first hit a vehicle and four more struck a compound, a Pakistani Taliban hide-out.

The tribal region is home to several militant groups focused on attacking U.S. and its allied NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban have also taken refuge there after an army offensive in their neighboring headquarters of South Waziristan.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Gunmen ambushed a van and killed nine civilians Sunday in a stretch of northwestern Pakistan covered by a new peace deal among tribes from rival Muslim sects. Security forces responding to the attack killed three alleged gunmen, police said.

The clash does not bode well for the future of the peace deal in the Kurram tribal region, which stopped a four-year conflict that had cost hundreds of lives. There have been reports that Taliban militants planned to take advantage of the deal to gain more territory along the Afghan border.

Police official Mir Chaman Khan said the attack occurred in Hangu district along the main road from Kurram to the city of Peshawar. The road had recently reopened after the Shiite Muslim Toori and Bangash tribes inked the deal with the Mangal and other Sunni Muslim tribes.

The clash occurred in a Sunni-dominated area. The van was coming from Parachinar, a Shiite-dominated town in Kurram.

Khan declined to speculate on who was behind the attack.

Pakistan's tribal belt is a hotbed of Islamist militant groups, many linked to the Al-Qaida terrorist network. The Pakistani army has launched offensives in several areas, and the United States has fired hundreds of missiles at suspected militants using unmanned aircraft in the region.

The Taliban, who adhere to a hard-line interpretation of Sunni Islam, have at times exploited sectarian and tribal feuds to spread their influence along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

But tribesmen in Kurram also have reported that the Haqqani network, a fiercely independent branch of the Afghan Taliban and a major enemy of U.S. and NATO forces, had cut a deal with the Shiites so it could use Kurram as a staging ground for fighting in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a suspected U.S. missile strike missed a target in Azam Warsak, South Waziristan.

A missile landed near a car carrying militants, who managed to flee before another missile hit the vehicle, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with media on record.


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