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Pakistan Spinning Bajur Madrassa Strike

While at least one key al-Qaeda member identified at the scene was killed in yesterday’s madrassa airstrike in the Pakistani North West Frontier Province’s Bajur region, today the Pak Tribune reports Pakistani spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan now claims that there were no Taliban or al-Qaeda terrorists among the 80 reported dead at the site.

But an immediate interview on-scene through NBC News’ Mushtaq Yusufzai clearly indicates otherwise. Yusufzai reported that local al-Qaeda commander Faqir Mohammed was not in the building at the time of the strike, but his deputy, Maulana Liaquat Ali Hussain, was among the dead. He described the madrassa as commonly known and regarded locally as an intensely pro-Taliban center and that Faqir Mohammed had invited al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri to what is considered an al-Qaeda-Taliban training center, not a simple unaffiliated school. It was Faqir Mohammed that had invited Zawahiri to a dinner that prompted the US airstrike in Damadola this past January.

The Counterterrorism Blog’s Andrew Cochran says that the strike on the Chingai, Pakistan madrassa has punctured the “Madrassa Myth,” asserting essentially that observers should know better than to believe that the madrassas run by Islamists – especially in the al-Qaeda/Taliban-dominated North West Frontier Province – are run without affiliation to terrorists.

Another Counterterrorism Blog contributing expert, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, cites a US intelligence source that confirms the strike was a US/NATO strike dealt by at least one armed Predator drone and helicopter gunships. There are reports that intelligence indicated that Ayman al-Zawahiri may have been in the building at the time of the strike, but Gartenstein-Ross reports his source as skeptical of such speculation. He notes that the strike comes days before Musharraf’s Pakistani government is due to sign accords with the terrorists in the Bajur region, ceding it to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in similar fashion as it recently agreed to in North Waziristan.

This perhaps explains Major General Sultan’s claims that there were only civilians killed in the strike on the al-Qaeda-run madrassa in Chingai, as it is necessary to maintain positive relations ahead of the accord signing that appears – at least for the moment - on hold. Indeed, thousands of Taliban supporters have staged protests in the Bajur town of Khar, as well as in the nearby city of Peshawar.