Air Attack Prompts Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

Thousands of Pakistanis held demonstrations nationwide this weekend after a U.S. airstrike last week killed at least 18 civilians. A senior Pakistani official said Saturday that the reported target of the attack, top al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was not in the village at the time of the strike. Liane Hansen talks with The New York Times' Carlotta Gall.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Thousands of Pakistanis protested this weekend in cities around the country against a US air strike late last week that killed at least 18 civilians, including six children. A senior Pakistani officials said yesterday he was certain that the reported target of the attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number-two leader of al-Qaeda, was not in the village at the time of the strike. Joining us from Pashawar, Pakistan, is New York Times corespondent, Carlotta Gall.

Good morning, Carlotta. Thanks for your time.

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (The New York Times): Good morning.

HANSEN: Can you tell us more about the protest this weekend?

Ms. GALL: Well, we've heard more today, in fact. But yesterday was the emotional one as the people of the region, very angry that American planes are coming into Pakistan and bombing and killing civilians. Today the political parties have held some rallies, a small one here, but a much larger one in Karachi, blaming the government. You know, calling on President Musharraf to resign over this issue which they're trying to make into a sovereignty issue over why the Americans are bombing inside Pakistan.

HANSEN: What was the basis for reports that Zawahiri was in town in the first place?

Ms. GALL: You know, intelligence we're getting from senior officials here--there's also been confirmation in Washington from officials, you know, none of who will go on the record, but they say, you know, it was a secret operation and that there was intelligence that he would be attending a dinner in this village. And there was a dinner. There were certain al-Qaeda supporters who were there, we think, and we understand that some Arabs and some other militants from Pakistan were killed in the strike. But it seems that al-Zawahiri didn't even turn up or, if he did, he left before the strike.

HANSEN: New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall joined us on the phone from Peshawar, Pakistan. Thank you very much.

Ms. GALL: Thank you.

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