January 17, 2006

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CNN.com - Officials: U.S. unsure of al-Zawahiri fate - Jan 16, 2006
From David Ensor
Villagers look Saturday at destruction in Damadola, Pakistan,
where a CIA airstrike targeted houses.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence officials say they are trying to determine whether Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant was attending a dinner in a remote Pakistani village and whether he was one of the people killed by a CIA airstrike.
The U.S. officials said Monday they had solid intelligence that a number of senior al Qaeda personnel were killed in Friday's attack, which targeted houses in Damadola, Pakistan.
The killings sparked demonstrations across the country, with tens of thousands of people marching against Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the United States.
The officials said Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 man, was invited to the Damadola dinner celebrating the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
But only some of al-Zawahiri's aides were there, Pakistani intelligence officials said Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
A U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN, "I cannot confirm at this point whether he [al-Zawahiri] showed up or not."
The remains of about 12 bodies, including as many as eight foreigners, were quickly retrieved by a group of men after the airstrike and buried elsewhere, sources said.
U.S. officials declined to comment on that report.
Pakistani officials said Sunday that 18 civilians died in the attack, including five children, five women and eight men.
The attack sparked outrage, with tribal leaders in the areas surrounding the attack vowing to continue their protest for three days, and keeping shops in the district closed.
One Pakistani intelligence official said al-Zawahiri was not among the dead and it was not known whether he had been in the area.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said that "as far as the reports that we've got so far, he wasn't there."
In an interview with CNN, Kasuri expressed outrage Monday that Pakistani forces had not been included.
"This is terrible -- 18 people have died -- innocent people, women and children apart from some men," he said.
Though U.S. and Pakistani forces have long shared intelligence, "any operations, if and when requested, will be conducted by the Pakistani army, to prevent just the sort of occurrence that happened," he said.
Kasuri declined to say whether Pakistani authorities had been informed of the strike beforehand.
"The important thing is not whether we knew or not," he said. "The important thing is a question of our sovereignty, a violation of our sovereignty."
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan has been "called in," he said, adding that he is prepared to take his complaint higher. "If required, I'll talk to Dr. Rice," he said, referring to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"Actions of this nature strengthen the hands of those who oppose this kind of cooperation."

DNA sample available

CNN analyst John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director, said that if al-Zawahiri is alive "there is a reasonable chance we will know sometime within the week" -- either because al Qaeda will put out a new tape to capitalize on the U.S. failure to get him or from "other intelligence sources or possibly forensics."
If al-Zawahiri is dead, it could take longer to verify, McLaughlin said.
U.S. officials confirmed that the FBI has a DNA sample from al-Zawahiri's brother that could be used for forensic identification purposes, but they declined to say whether forensic work was under way to identify those killed.
FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko said while the bureau often does DNA work for the Defense Department and other agencies, "no request has been received for assistance at this time; however, we remain available if asked."
U.S. authorities believe al-Zawahiri, 54, a doctor from a prominent Egyptian family, helped mastermind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also has been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. government has offered a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

U.S. lawmakers defend strike

On Sunday, U.S. politicians expressed regret over the deaths caused by the attack but said the airstrike was justified.
"It's terrible when innocent people are killed; we regret that," Sen. John McCain told CBS' "Face the Nation."
"But we have to do what we think is necessary to take out al Qaeda, particularly the top operatives. This guy has been more visible than Osama bin Laden lately," the Arizona Republican said.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" that the Pakistani government is unable to control that part of the country, where sympathetic residents were believed to be harboring al Qaeda leaders.
"Now, it's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" Bayh asked rhetorically. "It's like the Wild, Wild West out there. The Pakistani border [with Afghanistan is] a real problem."
Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report

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