ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan has yet to find the bodies of al-Qaeda operatives thought to have been killed in a U.S. missile strike more than two weeks ago and is still hunting for fugitive leaders of the terror group, an army spokesman said Tuesday.
The comments from spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan follow the airing of a video Monday by the apparent target of the strike, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, his first appearance since the Jan. 13 attack.
In the video, al-Zawahri branded U.S. President George W. Bush a “butcher” and a “failure”because of the airstrike. Al-Zawahri also condemned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, calling him a “traitor.”
Pakistani intelligence officials have said the strike was aimed at al-Zawahri but that he did not show up for a planned dinner in a border village that was hit. They say four other senior al-Qaeda militants may have been killed, along with 13 Pakistani civilians.
Sultan, who is Musharraf’s chief spokesman, said authorities were still investigating how many al-Qaeda suspects were killed in the attack and their identities.
“The investigation is going on but there is no outcome yet,” Sultan told The Associated Press.
Asked whether Pakistani security forces are looking for al-Zawahri, Sultan said Pakistan was trying to hunt down terrorists on its soil.
“A commander is always the priority target,” he added. Sultan would not comment on the al-Zawahri video, which was broadcast by the Arabic TV news network, Al-Jazeera, 11 days after the latest audiotape by Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader’s first public communication in more than a year.
There was no information on where the al-Zawahri video was filmed. Both he and bin Laden have long been suspected to be hiding along the lawless and rugged Afghan-Pakistan border.
In the video, al-Zawahri described Bush as the “Butcher of Washington” and condemned the missile strike. There are conflicting reports over the possible identities of the four dead militants. Pakistani intelligence officials have said they could include a son-in-law of al-Zawahri, an Egyptian bomb-maker on the U.S. most-wanted list and a top al-Qaeda leader behind attacks on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The missile strike, purportedly launched from a CIA-directed Predator drone, sparked anti-U.S. protests by Islamic hard-liners in Pakistan and drew a diplomatic protest from the government, which says it wasn’t given prior notice about the attack although it is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.
The United States has about 20,000 troops inside Afghanistan, but Pakistan says they are not allowed to operate on its soil or launch cross-border attacks.
On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Washington assured Pakistan at a “very high level” that such attacks would not be repeated inside Pakistani territory.
Separately, security forces arrested two suspected militants near where a roadside bomb on Monday in North Waziristan, another tribal region near the Afghan border, killed an army soldier and wounded nine others, the army said in a statement.