Pakistanis Demonstrate Their Outrage at the Alleged US Military Mass Slaughter of Innocent Students and Teachers
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File.
'Death to America', vow protestors
Wed, 01 Nov 2006
Thousands of gun-wielding Pakistani tribesmen chanting "Death to America" vowed revenge on Tuesday for a deadly air raid on an al-Qaeda-linked religious school that killed 80 people.
Britain's Prince Charles was forced to cancel a key visit to a frontier city amid fears that the rallies involving more than 20 000 people would spread, although planned nationwide protests later fizzled out.
Protesters insisted the dead were innocent but a security official said al-Qaeda deputy chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the alleged mastermind of August's foiled London airliners plot frequented the school, or madrassa.
They were not there at the time of Monday's raid, the official said.
The dawn missile strike provoked a furious response in troubled Bajaur, bordering Afghanistan, where 15 000 bearded men wearing turbans burned effigies of US President George W. Bush and shouted "Death to Musharraf".
"We are ready for suicide attacks against the enemy," said cleric Inayatul Rehman to cheers from the crowd in Khar, the main town in Bajaur which is around two kilometres (about a mile) from the site of the blast.
The gathering also verbally approved a resolution to stone to death any spies for the Pakistan government or US forces in Afghanistan, an AFP correspondent said, adding that they later dispersed peacefully.
The meeting place was ringed by masked men brandishing Kalashnikovs and ammunition belts. No government security forces could be seen in the area, and most of the protesters wore black armbands.
Another 5000 tribesmen marched through Landi Kotal, the main town of nearby Khyber tribal area, blaming Musharraf for the "bloodshed of innocent tribesmen", witnesses said.
US 'behind' the strike
Local leaders in this pocket of support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban accused the United States of either ordering the strike on the madrassa or of actually carrying out the raid using Predator drones.
Military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP that "there was no US role in the air strike".
Egyptian born Zawahiri, regarded as the ideological powerhouse behind al-Qaeda, was targeted in a failed CIA missile strike here in January.
The security official said he and Abu Obaida Al-Misri, al-Qaeda's operational commander in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, bordering Bajaur, continued to visit the madrassa in Chingai village.
Al-Misri was the mastermind behind August's alleged conspiracy to blow up jets flying from London to the United States and guided Rashid Rauf, a Briton arrested by Pakistan in connection with the alleged plot, the official said.
Among those killed in Monday's raid was Maulvi Liaqat, a local Taliban commander who ran the madrassa and who is known to be a close associate of Zawahiri, security officials said.
Key US ally President Pervez Musharraf insisted that no civilians died in the raid, Pakistan's deadliest ever against insurgents.
Charles and Camilla in town
Smaller protests took place in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were due to visit a government madrassa on Tuesday before cancelling at the last minute.
Around 1500 Islamists from different groups burned a US flag in the conservative stronghold and more effigies of the US leader. A few dozen women aid workers also staged a rally.
"The only way of survival now is jihad (holy war)," Inamullah, the district chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, told around 400 supporters. The group is banned in the United States for militant links.
Some 500 radicals also gathered in the southern city of Karachi.
But the protests were far smaller than the deadly riots that rocked Pakistan in February over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Peshawar then and two people were killed.
Britain said earlier it had cancelled Prince Charles's trip to Peshawar on the Pakistani government's advice. Clarence House, Charles's office, told Britain's domestic Press Association the royal couple was "disappointed".
The heir to the British throne and Camilla instead visited the country's first women's university in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, and Buddhist ruins in the nearby town of Taxila.
Crowds of students at Fatima Jinnah University cheered their arrival.
"Religion has once again become a source of conflict and intolerance. But one of the tasks of education must surely be to engender the acquisition of wisdom," Charles said in a speech that he had intended to deliver in Peshawar