ISLAMABAD – A U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan killed six people, including a senior leader of the ruthless Haqqani network, officials said, in only the second such strike outside the country’s lawless tribal districts.
The missile attack hit a religious seminary that militants and security officials said belonged to the terror outfit — blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in neighboring Afghanistan — in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Haqqani sources said the network’s spiritual leader, Maulana Ahmad Jan, was among those killed at the seminary, which they said was a rest base for militants fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the network’s chief financier, Nasirudddin Haqqani, was gunned down in mysterious circumstances in a village on the edge of Islamabad.
As it usually does after drone strikes, the government condemned the attack as a violation of sovereignty and counterproductive to efforts to end militancy.
Thursday’s strike was the first time a U.S. drone hit a district inside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The only previous strike outside the tribal areas came in Bannu district, a “frontier region.”
It was also the first in Pakistan since Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a similar strike in the North Waziristan tribal district on Nov. 1.
That attack prompted a furious response from Pakistan, with the interior minister accusing Washington of sabotaging fledgling peace efforts with the Taliban and opposition parties calling for a blockade of NATO supply lines to Afghanistan.
“The drone strike targeting the seminary killed six people,” police official Farid Khan said.
Two local security officials identified two of the dead as Jan and Mufti Hameedullah and said they were both members of the Haqqani network.
Several senior Haqqani sources confirmed the death of Jan, aged in his 60s.
“He was the spiritual leader and head teacher of the Haqqani network,” one source said, adding that Jan was a member of the group’s ruling council.
“He was receiving people who were coming to condole the death of Nasiruddin Haqqani because followers of were not able to meet any other member of Haqqani family.”
Another Haqqani source said the seminary was an important rest point for members fighting in Afghanistan’s restive Khost province.