MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Pakistani army helicopters struck a militant hideout in northwestern Pakistan in an attempt to kill a wanted senior al-Qaida operative, security officials said Thursday. Seven suspected militants and two children were believed killed, but it was unclear if the operative was slain.
The target of the Wednesday night raid in the North Waziristan tribal region village of Anghar Kalai was identified as Mohsin Matawalli Atwah, two officials said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue.
The officials did not identify the wanted al-Qaida operative further nor say if he was among those killed in the attack. Pakistani authorities are trying to determine the identities of the slain militants who were quickly buried in the area, the officials said.
U.S. authorities have posted a $5 million bounty for an Egyptian of a similar name, Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, who is accused of involvement in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The two Pakistani security officials, based in the capital, Islamabad, claimed Wednesday’s operation targeted Atwah and another al-Qaida militant, identified as bomb-making expert Abdul Rahman al-Masri.
But a third official, who also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said it was likely that Abdul Rahman was one of the aliases used by Atwah. The
FBI Web site also says one of Atwah’s aliases is Abdul Rahman.
An intelligence official in Miran Shah, a town on the Afghan border in North Waziristan, said the raid targeted a house where a group of militants were being sheltered by a local tribesman.
The attack, which was backed by helicopter gunships, killed seven militants, including five non-Pakistanis, and two young brothers who live in the house, ages 2 years and 2 months, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was unauthorized to speak to the media.
U.S. and Egyptian diplomats in Islamabad could not confirm if Atwah was targeted in the attack.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the top Pakistan army spokesman, confirmed the raid but did not have information on suspected militant casualties. “We had information about the presence of foreign militants. It was a sting operation and the target was knocked out,” Sultan said.
Pakistani forces have been hunting remnants of al-Qaida and
Afghanistan’s toppled Taliban government in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions that border Afghanistan.
Pakistani security officials have said
Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other top al-Qaida figures could be hiding along the mountainous, porous Pakistan-Afghan border region.
Authorities here have arrested more than 750 al-Qaida suspects, including senior leaders of the terror network, since joining the U.S.-led war on terror launched following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.