KHAR, May 14: At least 12 people were killed in a Hellfire missile strike on Damadola, 20 km northeast of here, on Wednesday evening, local residents and witnesses said.

They said that a pilotless predator fired two missiles on a two-storey compound in Khaza, a small hamlet in the Damadola area at about 8:45 pm.

A security official confirmed the missile strike but put the initial death toll at between six and eight.

“The area has been cordoned off by local militants. Nobody is being allowed to get anywhere near the place. It is difficult to say anything about the death toll but we presume that all those present there have been killed,” the official said.

He said that the missiles had hit the compound of Maulavi Ismail, where militants had gathered for dinner.

It was immediately not clear whether foreign militants were present at the place, though the official said this could not be ruled out.

Local people said that the compound was close to the house of Maulavi Ismail’s cousin Maulavi Obaidullah, a local militant commander. Obaidullah’s son Taj Muhammad was among those killed, residents said. Both the places were hit.

The missile attack is reported to have triggered a chain of explosions, apparently caused by a stockpile of explosives. Several people are thought to have been injured, but little information came out of the area because militants prevented local people from undertaking any rescue operation.

Significantly, the missile strike came while a prisoner exchange was taking peace between the government and militant commander Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.

Militant’s spokesman Maulvi Muhammad Omar confirmed the attack but gave no casualty figures. He said that the dead included women and children.

He said that the missile strike was an attempt by the United States to derail the peace process between militants and the government.

“But the peace process will continue. Such attempts (by the United States) would not be allowed to sabotage the peace process”, Maulvi Omar told Dawn by phone from an unspecified place.

Political administrator of the Bajaur tribal region Shafeerullah said he could not give any casualty figure since the area was under the militants’ control.

This is the third missile strike by American planes on Damadola. Eighteen people, including 14 members of one family, were killed when a residential compound was hit on Jan 13, 2006.

It was reported at the time that the strike had been carried on faulty intelligence that Al Qaeda No. 2 Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri had come there to attend a diner.

It was hit again by a pilotless predator on Oct 30, 2006, killing 82 people, many children among them.

The second strike had come just a day before the government and militants in Bajaur were to sign a peace agreement.

Ironically, the Pakistan Army had owned up the strike, claiming that the seminary was being used as a training facility by militants.

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