Five militants, three of them Uzbeks, were killed in Pakistan’s tribal belt on the Afghan border on Thursday when a blast destroyed the house they were staying in, a government official said.
The blast happened when explosives the men were storing went off, the official said, but residents of the troubled North Waziristan region, on the Afghan border, said a helicopter fired rockets into the house.
“The explosives materials were dumped at the house to make improvised explosive devices,” said Syed Zaheer-ul-Islam, top administrator in North Waziristan where the Pakistani army is hunting al-Qaida militants and their Pakistani supporters.
Three of the dead militants were Uzbeks and two were Pakistani, he said. Two men were wounded, one of them a foreigner, he said.
Residents of the area also said five people, including three foreigners, had been killed, but they said a helicopter fired rockets at the house in Haisori village, about 20 miles from the Afghan border.
Many al-Qaida members took refuge in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt after U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban in late 2001.
The hardline Taliban had refused to hand over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan confirmed that five people had been killed in a blast but he said its cause, and the identities and nationalities of the dead, were still being determined.
Pakistani forces launched an offensive in South Waziristan early last year after President Pervez Musharraf vowed to clear foreign militants from Pakistani soil.
Hundreds of militants and Pakistani troops have been killed in battles in the rugged, semi-autonomous region and about 70,000 Pakistani troops are now concentrating their search in neighboring North Waziristan.
Members of an Uzbek militant group allied with al-Qaida are known to be hiding in the area.