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Pakistan Attacks Village in Search for Al Qaeda

September 05, 2002|From Associated Press

JANI KHEL, Pakistan — Hundreds of Pakistani troops launched an attack Wednesday against villagers sheltering eight suspected Al Qaeda fighters, shelling the house of a Muslim cleric.

The attack began after sundown against the village of Jani Khel, about 125 miles southwest of Peshawar in western Pakistan, after villagers refused to hand over the suspected members of the terrorist network. No casualties were reported.

In the opening minutes of the operation, troops shelled the house of cleric Maulana Shams Haq and arrested his two brothers. The cleric was at large, officials said. Soldiers sealed off roads leading into the village and ordered journalists to leave the area.

Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers were sent to the village Monday after residents gave sanctuary to the suspects, who had been stopped at a checkpoint near the Afghan border the day before.

Pakistani security guards had arrested the suspects Sunday four miles from Jani Khel, but villagers ambushed the troops and freed the prisoners.

Officials said the men were believed to be Middle Easterners who had crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

The villagers insisted that the fugitives weren't members of Al Qaeda but had been associated with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Earlier Wednesday, a village elder, Nasir Khan, said the villagers would refuse to turn over "our guests to their enemy," meaning the Pakistani army, and that they were ready to fight to protect them.

Pakistan is a key supporter of the U.S.-led war against terrorism and so far has handed over to U.S. authorities more than 300 suspected members of Al Qaeda arrested in the border region and several cities.

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