- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A probable U.S. drone fired two missiles Wednesday at a suspected hide-out connected to a Taliban leader who has threatened to attack Washington, killing 14 people and wounding several others, officials said.

The attack came a day after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore, saying it was retaliation for U.S. missile strikes on militant strongholds along the Afghan border. Mehsud also vowed to launch an attack on Washington or even the White House in phone interviews with international and local media.

The FBI, however, said he had made similar threats previously and there was no indication of anything imminent.

A local intelligence official said the compound attacked Wednesday in a remote area of the Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border belonged to one of Mehsud’s commanders.

Up to 30 suspected militants were at the compound when it was hit, and the Taliban have moved the dead and injured to an undisclosed location, he said.

The strike is believed to be the first in Orakzai, another sign the U.S. is expanding its attack zone.

Since the U.S. escalated its missile campaign starting in August, most of the estimated three dozen strikes have landed in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions where Mehsud is strongest. However, those attacks appear to have primarily focused on al Qaeda hideouts.

Mehsud’s deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, is in charge of Taliban operations in Orakzai. Late Wednesday, he called an AP reporter who had spoken to him previously and is familiar with his voice, to threaten a revenge attack on Pakistan’s capital.

“Very soon we will strike in Islamabad in a way that everyone there will feel pain,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s ruling lawmakers will be targets.

The drone strike in Orakzai killed 14 people, local official Ghazni Gul said. Two senior intelligence officials said they believed the dead included close associates of Baitullah Mehsud. But it was difficult to confirm the exact identities of those involved because the Taliban surrounded the area shortly after the attack, they said.

Pakistan has publicly protested the attacks, calling them a violation of its sovereignty that also deepens anti-American sentiment. But President Barack Obama’s administration has signaled it has no intention of backing off. Officials say the strikes have killed top al Qaeda figures.

Baitullah Mehsud has no record of attacking targets abroad, although he is suspected of being behind a 10-man cell arrested in Barcelona in January 2008 and charged with plotting suicide attacks in Spain. The U.S. recently placed a $5 million bounty on Baitullah Mehsud’s head.

Pakistan’s former government and the CIA have named him as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

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