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Pakistan raid a sign of sharper U.S. intel

Nov. 23, 2008 - 01:52PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 23, 2008 - 01:52PM  |  
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A U.S. missile strike that killed a British militant linked to a jetliner bomb plot points to sharper American intelligence in Pakistan's borderlands, but is unlikely to lessen anger over the raid and others like it, analysts say.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A U.S. missile strike that killed a British militant linked to a jetliner bomb plot points to sharper American intelligence in Pakistan's borderlands, but is unlikely to lessen anger over the raid and others like it, analysts say.

Protesters Sunday urged Islamabad to sever ties with the United States over the strike highlighting the risks for Washington as it seeks to eliminate extremists along the Afghan border yet also support Pakistan's democratically elected government.

Pakistani intelligence officials say British citizen Rashid Rauf and a Saudi militant named Abu Zubair al-Masri were among five people killed in Saturday's raid in North Waziristan.

There was no independent confirmation of Rauf's death from either the U.S. or Britain, which had been seeking Rauf's extradition before he escaped from Pakistani custody in December 2007.

Pakistani officials discussing the case insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivities of U.S. operations on the country's soil.

Washington has unleashed at least 20 suspected missile attacks on militant targets close to the Afghan border since mid-August, a dramatic increase that reflects its frustration with Pakistan's own efforts.

Islamabad insists it has no knowledge of the raids, which it says undermine the country's sovereignty, undercut its anti-terror campaign and make it harder to justify its alliance with Washington.

But many analysts speculate it has cut a secret deal with the U.S., though Islamabad continues to publicly criticize the strikes.

"It is next to impossible for the government to acknowledge working with the Americans, even if it is in the country's interests," said Samina Ahmed, the South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group.

Ahmed and other analysts said the raids appeared to be getting more successful in targeting foreign, typically Middle Eastern, militants.

Last Friday, an al-Qaida member identified as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi was reported killed in a missile strike outside of the tribal regions where most others have hit,

Pakistani officials have said many of the victims were civilians, including women and children.

"There are American informants who are doing a far better job than they once did," she said.

Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding in Wazirstan or neighboring regions, possibly planning more attacks on the West.

Fighters blamed for carrying out and planning attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan also use the rugged region as a staging post, military officials say.

Without directly admitting to being behind the raids, U.S. officials have said recently that several ranking al-Qaida operatives had been killed in the border region in recent months.

Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, was perhaps one of the most significant yet.

Britain was seeking his return ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.

The plot's revelation in August 2006 prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carryon items.

A London jury convicted three men in the case in September.

The U.S. raids are deeply unpopular among many ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom are already angry with their leader's support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

About 100 people in the eastern city of Multan demonstrated against the strike, chanting "Down with America" and burning an effigy of President George W. Bush.

"The government should take concrete measures to protect the country's sovereignty instead of just paying lip service," said one demonstrator, Arif Fasihullah.

Talat Masood, a retired military general and political analyst, said America's interests would be better served if it shared intelligence with Pakistan and allowed it to act.

But U.S. officials have suggested that elements of Pakistan's intelligence and military which supported the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan may be sympathetic to the extremists.

"There is a lack of trust here, but the danger is that the government is looking helpless, while anti-American sentiment is growing with each incoming missile," said Masood. "Ultimately, you need the support of the people in fighting this war."

Associated Press writers Khalid Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, and Nancy Zuckerbrod in London contributed to this report.

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