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Suspected U.S. Missile Strike Kills Six In Pakistan

WANA, Pakistan -- A suspected U.S. missile strike on a Pakistani madrasah killed six people, including foreigners, in tribal lands regarded as an Al-Qaeda and Taliban hotbed, intelligence officials said.

The target of the predawn attack was a house close to a madrasah used by militants near Azam Warsak village, about 20 kilometers west of Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

The attack, one of many in recent months, was launched hours before Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was due to meet President George W. Bush in Washington for talks that will focus on the conduct of the war against terrorism.

The United States, alarmed by rising casualties among Western forces in Afghanistan, wants Pakistan to do more to contain the Al-Qaeda and Taliban threat in its territory.

A Pakistani military spokesman confirmed an incident had occurred in Waziristan, but said he was unaware of details, though intelligence officials in Wana gave a clearer picture.

One official told Reuters the madrasah, or religious school, was a militant base and the owner of the targeted house, a tribesman named Malik Sallat Khan, had ties with the militants.

"The owner of the house and seminary had some links with militants, and the madrasah was not used for education, but as a compound," he said.

Another official, who also declined to be identified, said at least three missiles hit the house and seminary, killing six people, including foreigners whose nationalities had still to be identified. Three people were wounded.

Residents said they heard the sound of a drone aircraft engine, suggesting that the missile may have been fired by a U.S.-controlled unmanned Predator.

"We heard the sound of a drone engine just before the explosions," said Zia-ur-Rehman, a local tribesmen. "These drones have been flying since late Sunday night."

Spokesmen for NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan denied involvement in any cross-border strike, but could not speak for the CIA, which also operates drones.

'No Prior Information'

Despite Islamabad's repeated protests, several drone missile attacks have been carried out this year by U.S. forces against militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban hiding in the northwest tribal lands near the Afghan border.

Pakistan's military spokesman said he had little information, and noted that U.S. coalition forces were no longer informing the Pakistan Army over every missile strike.

"Some incident did take place but what kind of strike it was, whether it was missile or rocket attack or bomb explosion, we don't know," Major General Athar Abbas said.

"Coalition forces don't share information about any strike with us prior to any attack," he said.

Chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid warned that cross-border strikes could damage relations with the United States during a meeting with U.S. Central Command acting commander Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey at army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

"Our sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, any violation in this regard could be detrimental to bilateral relations," a military statement quoted Majid as saying.

Security in northwest Pakistan has deteriorated in the past few weeks after a lull that followed the formation of a new government in March following elections in February.

Gilani's government embarked on a strategy of dialogue with militants, although there has been limited military action in some parts of the tribal region where unrest has flared.

Western governments fear the Pakistani strategy provided the militants with breathing space to increase the flow of fighters across the border to fuel the Afghan insurgency.