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Posted: 1/14/2006 9:33:40 AM EDT
Source: Al-Zawahiri not among 18 killed in airstrike

Saturday, January 14, 2006; Posted: 1:24 p.m. EST (18:24 GMT)

Intelligence earlier suggested Ayman al-Zawahiri, seen in this September video, may have been killed.

(CNN) -- Ayman al-Zawahiri -- Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in the al Qaeda terrorist network -- was not killed in a CIA airstrike on a remote Pakistani village, according to a Pakistani intelligence official.

U.S. sources said al-Zawahiri was the target of Friday's strike and initially reported that he may have been among the 18 people killed.

The Pakistani intelligence official said it was not known whether al-Zawahiri was in the area.

Pakistan's Foreign Office said Saturday it had lodged a protest with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan over the attack on the village of Damadola, near the Afghan border.

"Pakistan will also take up this matter in the next meeting of Tripartite Commission," a statement read. The group is made up of senior military and diplomatic representatives from coalition forces, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Associated Press quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as saying "our investigations conclude that they (the CIA) acted on a false information."

Reuters also quoted a senior Pakistani official as saying: "Al-Zawahri was not there at the time of the attack."

The Pentagon and the White House declined to comment on initial reports of the airstrike on Friday.

Friday morning's strike killed eight men, five women and five children, Pakistani intelligence sources told CNN. Three homes were targeted.

"We are conducting tests to identify the bodies," one intelligence official said.

The Foreign Office statement said a preliminary investigation shows "there was foreign presence in the area and that in all probability was targeted from across the border in Afghanistan.

"As a result of this act there has been loss of innocent civilian lives which we condemn. The investigations are still continuing."

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan's information minister, said that the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, is to be summoned and a strong protest will be made.

"While this act is highly condemnable, we have been for a long time been striving to rid all our tribal areas of foreign intruders who have been responsible for all the violence and misery in the region. This situation has to be brought to an end."

He added that it "is also the responsibility of the people in the areas to fully co-operate.'"

U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have long been concerned about foreign fighters taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan.

The Foreign Office statement said Pakistan's armed forces "have undertaken a large-scale operation against the foreign militants and it remains our responsibility to protect our people and territory from outside intrusion."

Hundreds of residents took part Saturday in protesting the attack.

The strike came a week after the Arabic language news network Al-Jazeera aired a new videotape with a message from al-Zawahiri, in which he called on U.S. President George W. Bush to admit defeat in Iraq.

U.S. authorities believe al-Zawahiri, 54, a doctor from a prominent Egyptian family, helped mastermind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He has also been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. government has put up a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

While bin Laden himself hasn't been heard from since October 2004, last week's videotape was the fifth message from al-Zawahiri released over the past year, including several claiming responsibility for the July attacks on London's transit system.

Considered the intellectual and ideological driving force behind al Qaeda, al-Zawahiri has been associated with bin Laden since at least 1987, when they first met in Pakistan. He is also believed to act as bin Laden's personal physician.

In 1998, al-Zawahiri merged his own Islamic militant group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, into bin Laden's organization.

Three months after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. forces attacked al-Zawahiri's residence in Afghanistan, killing his wife and children.

In March 2004, Pakistani troops launched an assault on an area in Waziristan province where intelligence indicated al-Zawahiri was hiding, but he was not captured.

Last month, Pakistani officials confirmed the death of a top al Qaeda official, Abu Hamza Rabia, who was killed in an explosion December 1 north of the border town of Miram Shah (Full story).

But witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how he died. Villagers said he was killed in a missile strike, while Pakistan officials said he died while working with explosives.

Egyptian-born Rabia was described as al Qaeda's operations chief and No. 3 man.

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