Islamic groups vowed Monday to keep up their anti-American protests over a purported CIA airstrike that Pakistan says killed innocent civilians instead of the apparent target — al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader.
For the second straight day, thousands of Pakistanis poured into streets in cities across the country on Sunday chanting “Death to America” and demanding U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.
Protesters believe Friday’s attack — in which missiles struck a Pakistani village near the Afghan border — was the work of U.S. forces in the neighboring country. The United States has 20,000 troops in Afghanistan searching for Taliban and al-Qaida, and Pakistan says it has not given the Americans permission to pursue their enemies across the border.
“There will be more ... bigger protests,” said Shahid Shamsi, spokesman for an alliance of Islamic groups.
“Pakistani civilians, including children, were killed,” he said. “Principles cannot be broken in the name of (fighting) terrorism.”
Bush declines comment
Appearing on Fox New Channel’s “Fox and Friends” show Monday, President Bush ignored a question about whether the airstrike was appropriate.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Jehangir Karamat, on Monday said the incident raises a host of questions.
“This particular strike, which led to civilian deaths, has created a situation where it’s being questioned whether this strike should have been carried out on our side of the border and whether there was enough intelligence, accurate intelligence, to warrant this strike,” he said.
Dinner invitation passed up
Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant, had been invited to a dinner in the village to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha but passed it up and sent some aides instead.
Investigators were trying to see if they were among at least 17 people killed the attack, which destroyed three houses in the Pashtun hamlet of Damadola, the officials said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Pakistani officials have strongly condemned the strike, without directly blaming the United States. The United States hasn’t commented on the incident.
A senior army official told The Associated Press on Sunday that “foreigners” were reported in the area around Damadola, which is four miles from the Afghan border, but he said there was no information al-Zawahri was among them.
Strong opposition to U.S.
Many in this country of 150 million oppose the government’s participation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The strike was one of several suspected U.S. attacks along the frontier aimed at militants.
Some 10,000 people chanting “Death to America” rallied on Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city. Hundreds massed in the capital, Islamabad, and in Lahore, Multan and Peshawar burning U.S. flags and demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Many al-Qaida and Taliban combatants, including al-Zawahri and bin Laden, are believed to have taken refuge in the rugged mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
In a speech shown Sunday on state-run Pakistan Television, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf did not address the Damadola strike directly, but he warned his countrymen not to harbor militants, saying it would only increase violence inside Pakistan.
“If we keep sheltering foreign terrorists here ... our future will not be good. Remember what I say,” Musharraf said.
Survivors in Damadola denied militants were there, but some news reports quoted unidentified Pakistani officials as saying up to 11 extremists were believed among the dead.
A senior intelligence official said Sunday that 12 bodies, including seven foreigners, had been taken from the village.
He said the bodies were reclaimed by other militants, but another Pakistani official told AP on Saturday that some were taken away for DNA tests. A law enforcement official in Washington said the FBI expected to conduct the tests to determine victims’ identities, although Pakistan had not yet formally requested them.
The claims could not be independently verified.