DAMADOLA, Pakistan (AP) – Villagers whose homes were destroyed in a U.S airstrike targeting al-Qaeda’s number 2 Ayman al-Zawahri denied Saturday he was ever there, as thousands marched in three separate protests against the attack. One mob set fire to the office of a U.S.-funded aid group.
Early Friday, residents said U.S. airplanes attacked a compound in this village close to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, killing at least 17 people. The target was al-Zawahri, a Pakistani official said.
But villagers said the Egyptian-born al-Zawahri was never there, and that they had never sheltered any senior al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.
“This is a big lie. … Only our family members died in the attack,” said Shah Zaman, who lost two sons and a daughter. “They dropped bombs from planes, and we were in no position to stop them. To tell them we are innocent.”
Zaman’s neighbor, Shamroze Khan, 55, also said he had never noticed any foreigner in their compound before. U.S. and Pakistani officials told NBC news that U.S. predator drones fired as many as 10 missiles at the village in the Bajur tribal region of northwestern Pakistan.
No security officials were present in Damadola when The Associated Press visited the area Saturday, where three houses, scattered across a hillside, had been destroyed. The dead were buried in hastily dug graves.
Also Saturday, in the nearby town of Bajur, police fired tear gas to disperse as many as 400 people who gathered to condemn the attacks while a peaceful demonstration took place in Inayat Qala, about six kilometers (four miles) from Damadola. The crowd burned tires and were preparing to block roads when up to 200 policemen moved in. Protesters fled after tear gas was fired.
In Khar, a small town near Bajur, hundreds of local tribesmen angered by Friday’s attack torched the office of the Associated Development Construction (ADC), a U.S.-funded aid group. The mob also ransacked furniture and computers, but there were no injuries, said resident Haji Habibullah.
The protesters chanted anti-American slogans and condemned the Pakistan government, but dispersed as soon as police arrived.
Elsewhere, witnesses estimated that more than 8,000 people attended a protest in Inayat Qala. A local Islamic party lawmaker, Sahibzada Haroon ur Rashid, said all the victims of the attack were local people and condemned it as “open terrorism.” “The people will continue peaceful protests against such attacks,” said Rashid.
“The people also condemn President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s policies which have led to such incidents. We want the (Pakistan) government to avoid pleasing the Americans.”
Pakistan maintains a sensitive alliance with the United States in its war on terror, which is opposed by many in this Islamic nation of 150 million people. It does not allow Afghan or the 20,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan to operate on its soil.
Obaidullah, a local doctor who goes by one name, said the protesters included supporters of various political parties.
He said he saw the air strike from his home about five to six kilometers away. “There was one plane flying (overhead). Then more planes came. First they dropped light (flares) and then bombs,” he said.