Suspected US missile kills 3 in northwest Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) âÄî A suspected U.S. missile struck a car in a lawless northwest Pakistani tribal region Wednesday, intelligence officials said, killing two insurgents and a civilian a day after the country again told visiting U.S. officials it opposes such attacks. The strike was a less-than-subtle hint that the Obama administration won’t give up a Bush-era tactic that Washington says has killed a string of al-Qaida operatives along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, even if it strains already-shaky relations with Islamabad. Elsewhere in Pakistan’s northwest, residents tried to force out a group of Taliban fighters who ventured into their community from a militant stronghold in the neighboring Swat Valley, triggering a clash that left at least five combatants dead. Signaling the militancy’s reach, police in the south said they detained five members of an al-Qaida-linked group who planned suicide attacks in the mega-city of Karachi. The missile strike occurred near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan tribal region, two intelligence officials said. South Waziristan is the main base of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, but there was no indication he was the target. A drone had been flying over the area, and the missile landed after people in the car fired at the aircraft, the officials said, citing informants and agents in the field. The attack also damaged some shops in the village of Shin Warsak, wounding at least five villagers and killing one, they said. The slain militants were from Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, one official said. Both said Taliban fighters took away the militants’ bodies. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. U.S. officials rarely discuss the missile campaign, which has escalated since August. Several dozen such missile attacks, believed launched by unmanned, CIA-operated drones, have been carried out in the northwest. Pakistan has protested the strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and raising sympathy for the Taliban, scotching rumors that the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan wants a trusting relationship with the U.S. during a Tuesday news conference with American envoy Richard Holbrooke and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. But on the subject of the missile strikes, Qureshi said, “There’s a gap between us and them.” Despite the strikes and a range of Pakistani efforts to stop the insurgency âÄî from controversial peace efforts imposing Islamic law to army offensives âÄî the militants appear to be extending their reach far beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions. Sometimes they meet resistance. A group of Pakistani Taliban fighters crossed late Monday from Swat into Buner, a previously peaceful district on the Indus River just 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Islamabad. After the militants ignored appeals from community leaders to go back, armed tribesmen and police confronted them, sparking a battle that left three officers and two tribesmen dead, local police officer Zakir Khan said. Khan said more than a dozen Taliban also died but provided no evidence to back that assertion. Behramand Khan, another police official in Buner, said the militants handed the five bodies to the police and that negotiations were under way for them to withdraw. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan denied the militants were trying to expand into Buner, calling the incident a “misunderstanding” stemming from some Taliban fighters’ desire to visit a local cleric. “They didn’t know that the mullah was not there in his village,” said Muslim Khan, who did not discuss any Taliban casualties. He said Taliban reinforcements arrived after news of the clash spread. Resident Iqbal Khan said tribal elders had asked villages to arrange militias to defend against any encroaching Taliban. He said about 200 had shown up and that many remained. “The situation is very tense. We are very worried,” Khan said Wednesday, adding that a tribal council would discuss the matter soon. The provincial government in northwest Pakistan agreed in February to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding areas to halt 18 months of terror and bloody fighting between militants and security forces that killed hundreds of people. But President Asif Ali Zardari has not signed an order introducing the new legal system, fueling speculation that Washington is pressing him to hold back and that a cease-fire between the militants and the army won’t hold. Police in the southern city of Karachi said the five suspects arrested Tuesday were members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group historically blamed for vicious attacks on minority Shiite Muslims but increasingly associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban. The suspects were arrested in the Sohrab Goth area, a major hub for Afghan refugees and tribesmen from Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region. Weapons, explosives and chemicals also were recovered, city police chief Wasim Ahmad told reporters. He alleged the suspects planned to strike government offices and Shiite gatherings in the city and that they had attacked a critical U.S. and NATO military supply line that runs through Pakistan’s northwest, but didn’t elaborate. ___ Associated Press writers Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.