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7 March 2011 Last updated at 13:27 ET

US drone strike 'kills 40' in Pakistani tribal region

Drone attacks are said to have killed hundreds of people in recent years

At least 40 people have died in a US drone strike in the Pakistani region of North
Waziristan, local officials say.

Most of the victims were believed to be civilians attending a tribal meeting near the regional
capital, Miranshah.

Earlier reports had said militants were among the dead. The area is an al-Qaeda and Taliban
stronghold and US drones regularly target the region.

The latest deaths come amid rising anti-US anger in Pakistan after a CIA contractor was
acquitted of murder.

The freeing of Raymond Davis has sparked protests across Pakistan.

Many people are angered that so-called "blood money" reported to amount to more than $2m
(£1.24m) was paid to the families of the two men he killed in Lahore. The relatives then
pardoned him under Sharia law and the court freed him.

Militants not 'present'

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says Thursday's drone strike is thought to have killed
more civilians than any other such attack since 2006.

Officials say two drones were involved in the latest attack, in the Datta Khel area 40km (25
miles) west of Miranshah.
One missile was fired at a car carrying suspected militants. Local tribesmen say the drones then
fired another three missiles at their meeting, or jirga.

Our correspondent says the vehicle was moving close to the site where the jirga was being held
in the open. The missiles hit the vehicle as well as the jirga.

According to the tribesmen, they meeting was being held to discuss a local land dispute over the
ownership of chromite deposits in the area. They say that no militants were present at the time.

Officials said the drones were targeting militants linked to Taliban commander Hafiz Gul
Bahadur. One of his commanders, identified as Sharabat Khan, was in the vehicle hit in the
attack and was killed, one local official told the BBC.

But most of the dead were tribal people - elders, local traders and members of the tribal police.

The official said 15 bodies had been found intact and identified by local people before being
buried. Some of the dead were carried across the border into Afghanistan from where they had

Other bodies were blown to pieces, making a body count difficult to determine. There is no way
of independently confirming casualty details as the media is denied access to the area.

It is the second drone strike in the area in as many days. On Wednesday a missile strike killed
five suspected militants in Datta Khel.

US drone attacks have escalated in the region since President Barack Obama took office. More
than 100 raids were reported in the area last year.

The US does not routinely confirm that it has launched drone operations, but analysts say only
American forces have the capacity to deploy such aircraft in the region.

The Pakistani authorities deny secretly supporting drone attacks, which have caused great anger
in the country. A number of militants, some of them senior, have been killed in the raids, but
many civilians have also died.