DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN // A suspected American missile strike killed five alleged militants in northwestern Pakistan early today, an intelligence official said, the fourth such attack on suspected insurgent targets there in 24 hours. The barrage was one of the most intense since the attacks were stepped up more than two years ago in a bid to keep pressure on al Qa'eda and its allies. Most are believed to be fired from unmanned, remote-controlled planes that can hover for hours above the area.
Also today, separate explosions ? one near the Afghan border and another in the country's southwest ? killed 13 people, officials said, while Britain said a UK journalist had been released from months of militant captivity close to the Afghan border. US officials do not publicly acknowledge the missile strikes but have said privately that they have killed several senior Taliban and al Qa'eda militants and scores of foot soldiers in a region largely out of the control of the Pakistani state. Critics say innocents are also killed, fueling support for the insurgency.
The latest attack took place before dawn on a house close to a disused match factory 3km west of Miran Shah town, a hub for local and international militants in the North Waziristan region, an intelligence official said. The three attacks yesterday also took place in North Waziristan, a lawless region home to al Qa'eda leaders plotting attacks in the West, insurgents battling foreign troops just across the border in Afghanistan and extremists behind bombings in Pakistan. There have been at least four other attacks over the last week.
Pakistani intelligence officials working from army bases in North Waziristan have a network of spies who inform them of the attacks. Sometimes journalists are able to speak by phone to villagers who witness them. Pakistani security agencies are believed to co-operate with at least some of the strikes, but there is very little independent reporting of them because the region is so dangerous for outsiders.
The names of those killed are rarely released, and allegations of civilian casualties are not publicly investigated. The militants have stepped up their own attacks in Pakistan in recent days, just as the army focuses on helping millions of victims from the worst floods in the country's history. Four big bombs have killed at least 135 people in less than a week. Today, 10 people were killed close to the Afghan border in Kurram region when a roadside bomb hit the bus they were traveling in, said local government official Noor Ahmed. It was unclear why ? or whether ? the vehicle was targeted.
Another explosion took place outside the house of a provincial minister in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Baluchistan province, killing three people, said city police chief Abid Hussain Nothkani. Also today, the British High Commission said a British-Pakistani filmmaker, who was abducted by Islamist militants in March in the Afghan border region, had been released. It did not say when or how Asad Qureshi had been freed. He was working on a film on militancy for the UK's Channel 4 television station when he was seized.
Pakistan's army has launched several offensives in the northwest over the last two years, but has resisted moving into North Waziristan despite US pressure. A major militant faction there, the Haqqani network, is blamed for attacks against US troops in Afghanistan but has refrained from striking inside Pakistan. Analysts believe the army views the network, with which it has historical links, as an important tool to secure its interests in Afghanistan once foreign troops withdraw.