MIRAMSHAH, Nov 22: The alleged mastermind of a transatlantic aeroplane bombing plot and four other people were killed in a US missile attack in North Waziristan on Saturday. Six people were injured, government and security sources said.

The Taliban claimed that all those killed in the Alikhel village of Mirali sub-district were local tribesmen and vowed to avenge the deaths by striking the settled areas.

An official said the Birmingham-born Rashid Rauf had apparently been killed along with an Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubair al Masri.

“Rashid Rauf and Al Misri were the target and have apparently been killed in the air strike,” the official told Dawn.

A security official said that intelligence gathered from the area suggested that Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistan extraction, might have been among those killed in the pre-dawn strike.

“This is what we are hearing too,” the official commented.

However, there was no independent confirmation of Rauf’s death in the attack.

Local people said that missiles had hit the highly protected compound of a Taliban commander, Maulvi Khaliq Noor. “The Taliban immediately cordoned off the area and retrieved the bodies and no one was allowed to go near the place,” they added.

Villagers said that a spy plane flying over the area fired two missiles at about 4.30am, turning the compound into rubble. Three children in a nearby house were injured and taken to a hospital in Mirali.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman condemned the attack, saying that drone incursions into Pakistani territory had created a “strong backlash” and proved to be counter-productive to Pakistan’s anti-terror war efforts.

“Pakistan condemns any such attack as it is a violation of its sovereignty. It would have been better if our authorities had been informed about any local action,” she said.

Rashid Rauf was arrested in Aug 2006 when his name figured in a plot involving a UK-based militant group to blow up transatlantic planes.

He has been on the run since his escape from police custody in Islamabad in December last year after a court appearance.

Taliban spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi denied that foreigners were killed in the missile attack. “Americans have killed innocent people and none of them were foreigners,” he said in a statement.

He said the Taliban would abide by the peace agreement with the government, but warned that such attacks would not go unpunished. “We will avenge the death of innocent people by striking the settled areas,” he said.

Agency adds: Britain said it was probing a report that Rashid Rauf was killed in a US attack.

“We are currently investigating this at the moment, but we do not have any information,” an FO spokesman said in London.

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