- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least 12 people, including several foreign fighters, close to the Afghan border Friday, as a Japanese journalist was wounded in an apparent kidnap attempt, officials said.

Pakistan is undergoing a surge of violence by al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants hiding out in its rugged northwest frontier region.

The United States is suspected of having launched 19 missile strikes from unmanned drones based in Afghanistan since mid-August, putting pressure on the extremists, who some fear are plotting attacks on the West.

Friday’s attack occurred in North Waziristan, a stronghold of extremists suspected of mounting attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that at least two missiles hit a house in Ghari Wam, a village about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the border.

Two officials put the death toll at 12 and said it included several suspected foreign militants. Their exact identity was not immediately clear. Taliban gunmen had cordoned the area and removed the bodies, one official said.

Another official put the toll at 13 and said 10 of them were foreigners.

The officials cited reports from agents and informants in the area and the different tallies could not immediately be reconciled. They asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Washington rarely confirms or denies involvement in the attacks, which Pakistan leaders say fuel support for extremists and often kill civilians.

The apparent attempted kidnapping of the Japanese journalist underscored the deteriorating security situation in the northwest.

The journalist was traveling with an Afghan colleague in a car in the regional capital, Peshawar, when gunmen opened fire, wounding both men and their Pakistani driver, police said.

Officer Mohammed Khan identified the Japanese man as Motoki Yotsukura from the Asahi newspaper, and said he was wounded in the leg.

His colleague, who Khan originally said was Pakistani, was also shot. The injuries to all three were not believed to be life threatening.

Khan said police were treating the incident as an apparent abduction attempt. Another officer said it may have been an assassination attempt.

Security appears to be crumbling in Peshawar, a strategically vital city and a hub for Western-funded relief work in the region.

Gunmen abducted an Iranian diplomat in the city Thursday — joining Chinese, Afghan and Polish men already kidnapped in the region — a day after an American aid worker was ambushed and killed there.

Speaking before the Japanese man was attacked, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said he believed Pakistan Taliban fighters were behind the recent kidnappings.

“Ultimately it leads to Tahreek-e-Taliban,” Malik said, referring to the group by its Pakistani name.

Malik did not say who he thought was responsible for the slaying of the American.

Pakistani leaders have pressed U.S. officials including President-elect Barack Obama for an end to the missile attacks.

U.S. officials have defended the missile strikes as an effective way of eliminating militant leaders and keeping al-Qaida on the defensive.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said Thursday that at least five senior al-Qaida leaders had died “either by violence or natural causes” in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the past year. He didn’t name them.

He also said that while Osama bin Laden appeared to be isolated from the day-to-day operations of al-Qaida, his network remains the single greatest danger to the United States.

Associated Press writers Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

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