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Pakistani Security Forces Kill Alleged al-Qaida Facilitator - 2004-06-18

Security forces in Pakistan have killed a rebel tribal leader in an operation against al-Qaida-linked terror suspects in a remote mountainous region. Pakistani officials say that nearly 70 suspected terrorists have been killed in the area in less than two weeks.

Officials and witnesses say Nek Mohammad was killed, along with four associates, in a late night rocket attack near the Afghan border.

The military described the 27-year-old Mr. Mohammad as "an al-Qaida facilitator." He had been staying at a friend's house in a village in the South Waziristan tribal region.

"We had the information about presence of Nek Mohammad and his associates in this particular area, which was targeted last night, and it is believed that he is amongst those five killed," explained Major-General Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for the Pakistan army.

Mr. Mohammad was allegedly sheltering and protecting dozens of suspected foreign al-Qaida militants in the area. The Pakistani military has lately intensified efforts to flush out the foreign forces and their local supporters hiding in the mountains along the border.

In two major operations this year, about 200 people, mostly militants, were killed. The government has lost at least 60 soldiers.

Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told Parliament Friday that the death of Nek Mohammad is a "major success." He said up to 70 foreign militants have been killed in the South Waziristan region in less than two weeks. The minister said operations will continue, until the last militant hiding there is killed.

U.S. and Afghan officials say the militants are involved in some of the anti-government activities across the border in Afghanistan. Remnants of the former Taleban government and the al-Qaida terror network are running an insurgency against the Kabul government.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, said troop patrols have increased on the Afghan side of the border. The coalition aims to catch militants trying to flee the Pakistani hunt in the South Waziristan region.

"Coalition forces in that region of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, stand ready to deal with those terrorists, who manage to elude the combined armed attacks on them by the Pakistani military, and attempt to flee to Afghanistan," he said. "Together, Pakistan and the coalition are showing the terrorists their places of refuge are becoming more and more limited."

The U.S. military says it has killed more than 80 anti-government militants in Afghanistan's border provinces within the past month.