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Pakistani Airport Base Hit By Rockets; No Injuries Reported

Attackers fired three rockets at a small airport being used as a base by Pakistani troops hunting for Al Qaeda (search) and Taliban (search) fugitives, but there were no injuries or damages, a military official said Sunday.

The attack happened late Friday in Bannu (search), about 155 miles southwest of the capital Islamabad, said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, a military spokesman.

There was no claim of responsibility, and Sultan said the military was trying to determine who might have carried out the attack. "We are ascertaining details of the attack," he said.

Two rockets exploded in deserted areas inside the airport grounds. The third rocket was failed to explode, he said.

Bannu is located at the edge of a tribal region where Pakistani and U.S. officials are searching for Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives, who are believed to use Pakistani soil to launch attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

Residents reported on Thursday that the Pakistani military has stepped up activity in the area, sending dozens of helicopters to Bannu airport. Some helicopters were spotted carrying "foreign" troops, a reference to American forces. The helicopters were flying over the tribal area near Bannu.

By Sunday, the helicopters were gone and the tiny airport all but abandoned.

Abbas Khan, 60, a worker at the airport, told The Associated Press that the Pakistani military had pulled out Saturday afternoon after an operation that lasted several days.

"At 3 p.m. all the helicopters and troops left. They were here for three days. There were a lot of flights but we don't know what they were doing," Khan said.

Ismail Khan, the owner of a tea house near the airport, said there were many Pakistani soldiers in the area, and that the townspeople speculated they were looking for Al Qaeda.

"It was the talk of the town that they were here searching for Al Qaeda people," Ismail Khan said. "We don't have any Al Qaeda people here in our area."

Pakistan's military has said it deployed the troops in Bannu for a "routine exercise," but military operations in the deeply conservative area are anything but routine.

Tribesman in the area, which borders Afghanistan, resent the presence of foreign and Pakistani troops. Sympathies among the tribesman run high for the Taliban because many share the ousted militia's harsh interpretation of Islam and its Pashtun ethnicity.

They are also suspected of sheltering fugitives from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a charge that was denied by tribal elders.

"Those involved in terrorism or having intentions of terrorist operations will not find shelter on our soil. We will punish and fine those giving them shelter," said Haji Mainal Khan, a 55-year-old elder from the Bakakhel tribe, most of whose members live near the airport.

Wearing a turban and sporting a graying beard, Khan said the tribe would hold a jirga, or meeting, on Monday to try to find out who launched the attack on the airport.

He said if someone from his tribe was found to be involved in the attack the perpetrator would be fined 5 million rupees, about $83,300, and his home would be demolished.

Some tribesmen, however, said they would not deny sanctuary to Taliban or Al Qaeda fugitives.

"We are Muslims. Our doors are open for Muslims," said Attaullah Khan, 35, an AK-47 rifle slung over his shoulder as he watched over his small grocery store. "It is our duty to help a Muslim brother in time of hardship."