Pakistani Official Says He's Certain Al Qaeda Commander Is Dead

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's interior minister said Monday he was "100 percent" certain that wanted al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike.

Rehman Malik's claim came as suspected American missiles targeted hideouts in the militant sanctuaries near Afghan border, killing at least 16 people.

Malik did not say how his government knew that Kashmiri was killed Friday by a missile, or if it had evidence of his death.

Kashmiri, wanted for attacks in Pakistan and India as well European plots, was wrongly reported to have been killed in a similar strike in Sept 2009. U.S. officials have described Kashmiri as al Qaeda's military operations chief in Pakistan. He was rumored to be a contender to replace Osama bin Laden as the terror network's chief.

"I can confirm 100 percent that he is dead," Malik told reporters outside Pakistan's parliament in Islamabad, without elaborating or offering evidence to support his claim. His comments came just hours after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in the southern city of Quetta that America had confirmed the death. He did not say who in the U.S. administration told him.

Malik has previously claimed the deaths of some Taliban leaders, only to be proven wrong later.

Getting definitive confirmation about who has died in missile strikes is difficult, especially if no body is retrieved.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. fired missiles at three suspected militant targets near the Afghan border, killing 16 people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The identities of the dead in the unusually intense volley of drone-fired strikes in the South Waziristan tribal region were not known. Several Arabs were said to be among the victims of one of them, according to the officials, who did not give their names in line with agency policy.

Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters maintain a presence in South Waziristan, despite a Pakistani army offensive launched there in 2009.

Since the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden on May 2 in northwest Pakistan, missile strikes have picked up after a relative lull in the year's first half. Anger at the bin Laden operation, seen here as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, has led to fresh calls on Washington to stop the attacks.

Before dawn, one set of missiles hit a compound in Wucha Dana village, killing seven people. The second set exploded about the same time at a Muslim seminary there, killing five people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for quotation.

Later Monday, missiles hit a vehicle traveling in Dra Nishter village in the same region, killing four, officials said.

Washington says the missiles have killed hundreds of militants, including several top al Qaeda commanders, since they began in earnest in 2008. More than 30 have struck this year, compared to last year's total of about 130. Some experts question their legality and the secrecy under which they operate. Transparent investigations of reported civilian casualties are not carried out.

Pakistani intelligence is believed to provide the U.S. with targeting information for at least some of the strikes, but its civilian and military leaders publicly protest the strikes and say they create more enemies than they kill. It would be politically toxic for Pakistan's government to acknowledge collaborating with the U.S. in attacks unpopular among many Pakistanis.

Also Monday, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed 18 people at a bakery in an army neighborhood in the northwest town of Nowshera the previous night. The militant group said the attack was vengeance for Pakistani army actions against them in the nearby Swat Valley.


Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar contributed to this report.