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Pakistani Troops Search for Islamic Militants


Pakistani troops are hunting for Islamic militants in a northwestern tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.

Soldiers have fanned out in the rugged countryside of mountainous South Waziristan, conducting searches of walled compounds and homes. Sporadic gunfire continues around the town of Wana, where thousands of Pakistani troops have closed in on several hundred foreign militants and their local supporters.

At least one explosion was heard around Wana Sunday, as helicopters gunships flew overhead.

However, fighting appears to have tapered off after intense battles between government forces and Islamic militants erupted Tuesday, at the start of the operation.

Since then, dozens of people have been killed. Local residents say 13 civilians died Saturday when Pakistani fire hit their vehicles. Many civilians have fled the area.

Pakistani military officials have said the fighters appear to be protecting a militant leader, but it may not be Osama bin Laden's top deputy of the al-Qaida terror network, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as some reports have suggested.

A Pakistani general, Safdar Hussein, says the man militants are protecting may be a Chechen or Uzbek.

Pakistani officials say more than 100 suspected Islamic militants, including foreign fighters, arrested in recent days are now undergoing questioning.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

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