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Al-Qaeda Militant Said Killed In U.S. Strike In Pakistan

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A mid-level Al-Qaeda leader, identified as an Iraqi, was among up to 20 people killed in a U.S. missile strike in northwest Pakistan, a Pakistani intelligence official has said.

The intelligence official identified the Al-Qaeda leader as Abu Akash.

"He is a mid-level Al-Qaeda man who was leading a high-profile life in Mir Wali," said the official, who declined to be identified, referring to the second-biggest town in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border.

Two missiles were fired by a pilotless "drone" aircraft into a house in Mir Ali, a major sanctuary for foreign Islamist militants including Arabs, and Central Asians, another intelligence official said.

A witness said the house was ablaze after the strike.

A short while later, another suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, another militant hideout on the Afghan border.

Several militants were in the house for dinner at the time of the strike but there was no word on casualties, a district government official said.

U.S. forces have stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistan in response to concern about worsening security in Afghanistan.

U.S. drones have carried out about 15 such missile attacks on militant targets in lawless ethnic-Pashtun tribal lands on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan since the beginning of September. U.S. forces also launched a cross-border commando raid in September.

Scores of people have been killed but no senior Al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported to have died.

The strike came two days after Pakistan summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest against missile strikes and demand that they be stopped immediately.

Nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan is also battling militants on its side of the border, but it says cross-border U.S. strikes undermine efforts to isolate the militants and rally public opinion behind the unpopular campaign against militancy.

A senior security official said Abu Akash's real name was believed to be Abd al-Rahman, although he was known to have used many aliases. He was known as Akash Khan in Mir Ali.

"He is an Al-Qaeda man but was not among the top hierarchy. He was involved in carrying out IED blasts in Afghanistan," said the security official, referring to improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs.