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Militants Slain in Morning Raid Of Pakistani Religious School

By Salman Masood
THE NEW YORK TIMES


ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

The Pakistani military said on Monday that it had destroyed a religious school used for training militants in the Bajur tribal area, which straddles the border with Afghanistan. The attack killed at least 80 people, the military said, describing them as militants.

The strike started at about 5 a.m. local time, when helicopter gunships fired missiles into the religious school, known as a madrassa, that was run by a local cleric, Maulvi Liaqut, according to military officials. Ground troops then stormed the compound.

Local news reports said Liaqut was killed in the attack.

He had once been a member of the defunct militant movement Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, which sent thousands of tribal fighters into Afghanistan to support the Taliban before being banned in 2002 by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Liaqut was accused by the government of harboring local and foreign militants at the school.

“We received confirmed intelligence reports that 70 to 80 militants were hiding in a madrassa used as a terrorist-training facility, which was destroyed by an army strike, led by helicopters,” Maj. General Shaukat Sultan, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, told The Associated Press.

He also told reporters that security forces had information that the madrassa was being used for military training, and that the militants had been warned to close down the facility but had not done so.

Sultan said that no “high value target” was present during the raid, referring to leaders of al-Qaida or the Taliban. Sultan also said that no children or women were present inside the madrassa, and he denied that any American or NATO troops were involved in the raid.

“The information that we are receiving so far is that majority of the facility has been destroyed and most of the miscreants present there, they have been killed,” he said.

Sultan said that the madrassa was in an isolated location. “There is no house within about a 100-meter radius of this madrassa,” said Sultan. “As per information that we had, there were no women or children present there,” he said.

After the attack, helicopters were reported hovering over the area. Telecommunication links were also reported to be suspended, according to local news media.

The madrassa was located in the village of Chingai near Khar, one of the semiautonomous tribal areas in northwestern Pakistan that have long been considered safe havens for Taliban and al-Qaida remnants.