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Tribesmen held in hunt for Al-Qaeda

June 28, 2002

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PESHAWAR, June 27: Pakistani authorities on Thursday detained 17 people, including 15 tribesmen, as they intensified a hunt for Al-Qaeda fighters who killed 10 soldiers in a shootout near the Afghan border, local tribal leaders said.

“Authorities have arrested around 15 tribesmen and have sealed the entire area around Azam Warsak. All shops and markets are closed and residents are confined to their homes,” tribal leader Purdil Wazir told AFP.

A local official said troops have also detained two non-tribal Pakistanis who are believed to have crossed into Pakistan with the Al-Qaeda fighters.

The detained Pakistanis are not from the tribal territory, the official said on condition of anonymity. “They are being interrogated to ascertain if they had any links with Al-Qaeda fighters,” he told AFP.

Hundreds of Pakistani troops have been deployed in an intensive air and ground search for Al-Qaeda militants who escaped a botched midnight raid on their hideout in Azam Warsak village, some 40 kilometres from the Afghan border.

The militants hurled grenades and opened fire on Pakistani troops who raided the mud fortress home late on Tuesday after tipoffs from US intelligence agents.

Five soldiers, five para-militaries and two militants, said to be Chechens, were killed in several hours of fighting.

Locals said up to 50 Chechen Al-Qaeda men and women had been hiding out in the home of a sympathetic tribal elder in Azam Warsak, some 400 kilometres from Peshawar.

Wazir said around 50 tribesmen held a meeting with Pakistani military authorities on Thursday at Wana in NWFP’s South Waziristan district, and pledged to support the hunt for Al-Qaeda men.—AFP