KHAR, Aug 12: A senior Al Qaeda operative and 17 other militants were killed when low-flying helicopters bombed their positions in the Bajaur tribal region, sources said on Tuesday. Several others were injured.

The sources said Abu Saeed al-Masri alias Mustafa Mohammad Ahmad was killed in the air strike. The Egyptian-born Abu Saeed was reported to be a senior member of the Majlis-i-Shura and financial chief of Al Qaeda.

They said that Cobra helicopters precisely targeted militants’ positions in Shahnari, Haji Lawang, Ragha Dagg and Takht areas where security forces had been using air power since Friday.

The helicopters attacked militants’ hideouts in Shahnari, killing 13 Taliban. They also hit four vehicles in Takht, killing five militants and injuring three others. Witnesses said that one vehicle was destroyed.

Witnesses said that militants fired rockets on a van carrying a displaced family in Gardai area. A man and his wife were killed and their three children were injured. They were going from Khar to a relief centre in Munda area of Lower Dir. The victims were buried in a graveyard in Munda and their children were taken to a hospital in Timergara.

Exodus from different areas of Bajaur continued on Tuesday, with a large number of people moving to other districts.

Meanwhile, a Taliban group in North Waziristan has threatened to launch an attack if the government did not stop operations in Bajaur and Swat. In a statement, the group’s chief Ahmadullah Ahmadi accused the government of killing innocent people at the behest of the United States.

He urged the government to hold talks with the Taliban to resolve the conflict and restore peace in the region. “Repercussions of the operation could be very serious,” he said.

AFP adds: A spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban denied that any foreign insurgent had been killed.

“I strongly contradict reports that Abu Saeed al-Masri was killed in Bajaur. There are no foreigners,” Maulvi Omar said.