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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Pakistan withdraws al-Qaeda claim
Pakistani troops in Wana
The army says the basic objectives of the operation were met
Pakistan has withdrawn claims that a senior al-Qaeda militant was killed in the latest offensive against militants near the Afghan border.

An army spokesman said that he was a local militant, not an international al-Qaeda intelligence chief.

The clarification came as the bodies of two local officials kidnapped by suspected foreign militants were found in the South Waziristan area.

The army says about 100 people in total have died in fighting in the area.

It says 46 soldiers and 63 opposition fighters died in the two-week offensive against "terrorist structures" that ended on Sunday. Another 163 fighters have been arrested, the army says.

'Probably murdered'

Military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said on Tuesday that the militant, known as "Mr Abdullah" was merely a small time operative based in the town of Wana in South Waziristan.

"He is not really the intelligence chief for al-Qaeda," he said, "but he was one of the top intelligence people in Wana for al-Qaeda."

Major General Sultan refused to answer questions over whether the military recovered the dead man's body, saying he had no more details about his nationality or identity.

Army tank
The army says it will stay in the area

But he did give details about the recovery of the bodies of two local administration officials which he said were recovered in a well in South Waziristan on Monday.

He said that the dead men were probably murdered several days ago, and that they were unarmed and shot in the head and chest.

The pair were among a group of 14 hostages who were kidnapped earlier this month. Twelve others were released at the weekend.

Cordon lifted

The army said it had dismantled a "terrorist structure" in the prolonged operation in the South Waziristan.

It was aimed against al-Qaeda and Taleban members and tribesmen sheltering them.

"This stage of the operation is over," Gen Sultan told the BBC's Urdu service.

He said the "basic objectives" of the operation were met - one of which was " to dismantle the terrorist structure" in South Waziristan.

The army on Sunday lifted a cordon around the area of the fighting and began withdrawing some of its troops.

But the spokesman said troops would remain in the tribal areas until they were "purged of militants".

There were reports that another key militant, the Uzbek Islamist Tahir Yuldashev - said to rank 10th in the al-Qaeda leadership - was wounded and still at large in the region.

Secret tunnels

Pakistan's largest military operation in the tribal areas began on 16 March with the aim of catching or killing al-Qaeda leaders and their supporters in the area.

Locals return home as the army operation ends
Locals return home as the army operation ends
Initially, al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri was believed to have been among them.

However, a tape recording purportedly by Mr Zawahri was aired on Arabic television during the offensive - and deemed by the American CIA to be probably authentic, even though the time of its recording could not be established.

The army conceded during the operation that suspects may have escaped through a network of secret tunnels.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The question is, have Pakistani forces taken on more than they can handle?"

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