KHAR, PAKISTAN — A local pro-Taliban elder on Tuesday told thousands of tribesmen protesting an air raid on a religious school that he had prepared a squad of suicide bombers to target Pakistani security forces.
Inayatur Rahman addressed the angry crowd as a security official said Al Qaeda's No. 2 official, Ayman Zawahiri, and the purported London airline bomb mastermind had both visited the religious school several times, though they weren't there when Monday's raid killed 80 people.
"We will carry out these suicide attacks soon," Rahman said.
Pakistan's military said the school -- known as a \o7madrasa \f7-- was destroyed by helicopters firing missiles because it was preparing dozens of students to launch attacks in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
Residents said unmanned U.S. Predator drones were flying above the village before the missile strikes. Pakistani and U.S. military officials denied any American involvement in the attack.
The carnage in the village of Chingai and conflicting claims over whether the victims were trainee militants or \o7madrasa \f7students set the scene for widespread unrest in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country of 165 million people whose government is a close ally in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Here in the nearby town of Khar, 20,000 tribesmen, many brandishing firearms, railed Tuesday against President Pervez Musharraf and President Bush and called for their deaths.
Smaller rallies were held in other Pakistani cities. The protests come at a volatile time for Musharraf, who has been under pressure to crack down on militants operating along the Pakistan-Afghan frontier.
Among the dead was Liaquat Hussain, a fugitive cleric and Zawahiri associate who ran the religious school.
A Pakistani security official said Zawahiri and an Egyptian identified as Abu Ubaida had visited the bombed seminary several times. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said Ubaida had masterminded the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic passenger jets traveling from London.