A US drone attack in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan has killed several German Islamists, according to information from Pakistan's intelligence service.
There were conflicting news reports regarding the number of German citizens killed in Monday's attack. The news agencies Reuters and DPA reported, citing intelligence officials, that eight Germans had been killed, while the Associated Press and AFP reported that five German Islamists were dead. According to AFP, the dead Germans were of Turkish descent. AFP said that three Pakistanis had also been killed, while DPA reported that three Turkmen citizens had died in the attack.
All reports said the drone fired two missiles. The weapons apparently struck a building in the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan region near the border to Afghanistan late on Monday evening, local time. The city of Mir Ali is well known by intelligence services because it is used as a transit point by insurgents in the region.
On Monday evening, the German government appeared not to have a clear picture of the situation. When asked by SPIEGEL ONLINE, none of the authorities were prepared to make an official comment on the incident. Sources speaking off the record said that they had no information about the incident but were looking into the reports from Pakistan.
Man Gave Germans Shelter
AP reported that the dead were believed to be Germans who had been staying in the region to take part in terrorism training. The target of the attack was reportedly a house that belonged to a Pakistani called Sher Mullah, located near a mosque. The owner had been seized, together with a German, by Pakistani intelligence several months earlier, a neighbor told the AP. "He had given all these Germans shelter," the neighbor said.
DPA quoted a source in Pakistani intelligence who identified the home owner as Sher Maula Khan; the similar-sounding name suggests that it is the same man. Khan was reportedly arrested in June, together with a German Islamist identified as Rami M., who has since been deported to Germany. Khan was a member of the Taliban who had rented his farm out to the Germans, the Pakistani intelligence agent told DPA. One of the dead Germans had called himself Fayyaz and had apparently been planning attacks in Europe.
According to Reuters, however, the drone's target in Mir Ali was not a private home but a mosque. One local resident told the news agency that people had gathered for prayer in the mosque when the missile struck. The site of the impact was apparently later cordoned off by insurgents.
The US is increasingly using drones for air strikes in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In September, there were 21 US drone attacks in northwest Pakistan alone, more than in any previous month. Drone attacks against insurgent targets form a key part of US President Barack Obama's anti-terror strategy.
'Potential for Terrorist Attacks'
Monday's drone attack comes amid increased concerns about possible terror attacks in Europe. On Sunday, the US State Department issued a travel advisory alerting Americans "to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe," saying that current information "suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks." The warning was prompted by fears that terrorist cells could be on the verge of launching Mumbai-style attacks aimed at civilian targets in Europe. Cities in the United Kingdom, France and Germany are thought to be among the potential targets. Authorities across Europe have tightened security at airports and other possible targets as a result of the warning.
Those concerns are partly based on information from an Afghan-German jihadist, Ahmad Sidiqi, who was arrested in Kabul at the beginning of July and is now being held at the US military's Bagram air base near Kabul. During his interrogation by the Americans, Sidiqi apparently spoke of possible terrorist plans in Europe. Sidiqi alleges that Osama bin Laden approved the plans and provided some of the money for the operation.
Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office told AP on Monday that as many as 220 people from Germany have traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to visit terrorist training camps, and at least 70 have received training. Last week a Pakistani intelligence official told the agency that approximately 60 Germans are thought to currently be in North Waziristan.