ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistanis on Sunday protested a suspected American missile strike that intelligence officials said killed a British citizen linked to a plot to blow up jetliners, saying their Western-allied government must stop the cross-border attacks.
Pakistani intelligence officials said British citizen Rashid Rauf died in Saturday's raid, but there was no independent corroboration of the death
His death would be a major blow to Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists believed sheltering in the lawless region. It would also bolster U.S. claims that missile strikes on extremist strongholds in northwestern Pakistan are protecting the West against another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack.
About 100 people in the eastern city of Multan demonstrated the strike, chanting slogans of 'Down with America' and burning an effigy of President George W. Bush.
"The government should take concrete measures to protect the country's sovereignty instead of just paying lip service," said one demonstrator, Arif Fasihullah.
Three Pakistani intelligence officials and a senior government official, citing reports from field agents as well as intercepted militant communications, said Rauf and a Saudi militant called Abu Zubair al-Masri were among five killed in Saturday's raid in North Waziristan.
"We got it confirmed from our own sources," said one of the officials, who declined to give more details. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the media and the sensitivity of the issue.
Information Minister Sherry Rehman confirmed that Rauf and al-Misri were targeted in the raid. She did not elaborate.
Rehman reiterated her government's complaint that missile attacks are fanning anti-Americanism and Islamic extremism tearing at both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"It would have been better if our authorities had been alerted for local action," Rehman told The Associated Press. "Drone incursions create a strong backlash."
North Waziristan is one of the tribal areas where Taliban fighters operate out of bases to stage attacks across the border into Afghanistan and lies in the rugged frontier region where Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden may be hiding.
Taliban spokesman Ahmedullah Ahmedi insisted only civilians and no foreigners were killed in the pre-dawn missile attack in the village of Ali Khel, which lies in an area long reputed as a militant stronghold.
Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, has been on the run since last December, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
Britain was seeking his extradition ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected Al Qaeda mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.
The plot's revelation in August 2006 prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carryon items.
A London jury convicted three men in the case in September, though several others were acquitted. British investigators lamented that Rauf's arrest by Pakistani authorities in August 2006 had forced them to sweep up the plot suspects before they had finished gathering strong evidence.
U.S. forces based in Afghanistan are suspected of having carried out about 20 missile attacks in northwestern Pakistan since August, reflecting American impatience at Islamabad's efforts to curb militants on its own soil.
American authorities rarely confirm or deny individual attacks. Still, senior U.S. officials have defended the tactic and said it has eliminated several top Al Qaeda operatives in recent months.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said he had no information on the attack. A State Department duty officer said they don't comment on military matters.