Authorities are trying to identify some of the scores of bodies of militants killed in a counterterrorism operation near the Afghan border to determine if any were key al-Qaida members, officials said Tuesday.
The five-day offensive in South Waziristan, about 210 miles west of the capital, Islamabad, ended Sunday after an assault on militant hideouts with artillery, helicopter gunships and jet fighters. At least 72 people, including 17 security forces, were killed.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told The Associated Press it wasn’t known if any key al-Qaida members was among the 55 dead militants. He gave no details about the nationalities of those killed, although he said earlier that some were foreigners.
Another security official said on the condition of anonymity that experts were trying to match dead terror suspects with photographs of “some al-Qaida men.”
Last week, Sultan said an alleged al-Qaida financier, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, had visited a house in Shakai village, which was targeted in the operation. He didn’t divulge al-Iraqi’s nationality.
Sultan would not say Tuesday whether al-Iraqi was among the dead, or whether he was in Shakai during the operation.
“We never said that he (al-Iraqi) was there. ... All we said (was) that he used to visit a house in Shakai,” he said.
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has launched a series of military operations in South Waziristan, where hundreds of foreign al-Qaida-linked militants are believed to be hiding — along with members of Afghanistan’s former ruling Taliban regime.
Authorities say militants there were behind recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and that a cell of eight terror suspects arrested in the southern city of Karachi over the weekend received training there.
If any key al-Qaida figures were killed, it could take months for their identities to emerge.
Pakistan on Monday announced the arrests of 11 terrorist suspects in Karachi.
One is said to be Daud Badini, leader an al-Qaida-linked militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and reputed to be a brother-in-law of Ramzi Yousef, who is serving a life term in the United States for the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
Another suspect is a nephew of former al-Qaida No. 3, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.