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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 13:16 GMT
Blast 'kills al-Qaeda commander'
Pakistan says a top al-Qaeda commander has been killed in the country's tribal belt along the Afghan border.

Egyptian-born Abu Hamza Rabia, described as al-Qaeda's operational commander, was among five militants killed in a blast in North Waziristan.

Officials said the men died when their own explosives blew up, though local people say their house was fired on.

Tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers are deployed along the border as part of the hunt for al-Qaeda militants.

The killing was first reported in Pakistan's English-language Dawn newspaper on Saturday.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has since confirmed the report when asked if it was true.

"Yes indeed, 200%. I think he was killed the day before yesterday if I'm not wrong," he told journalists in Kuwait as he arrived for an official visit.

Pakistani troops in South Waziristan
Tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers have been deployed along the border

Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid says he was head of the group's international operations.

"He was very important in al Qaeda. He was maybe Number Three or Five," the minister told Reuters.

But local tribesmen describe him as a low-level activist.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says it is not clear how important Hamza Rabia was in al-Qaeda.


Officials said three of the five militants killed were foreigners, including Hamza Rabia.

They said they were killed when an explosion, apparently caused by bomb-making material, destroyed their house.

But a report in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted local tribal residents as saying the house was destroyed after missiles were fired from an unmanned "air vehicle" or drone.

Abu Hamza Rabia is described as the operational commander of al-Qaeda.

He is believed to have worked closely with Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the head of al-Qaeda's international operations wing, until the latter's capture in May.

Hunting militants

Hundreds of militants and more than 250 Pakistani soldiers have died in the tribal areas in the past two years.

The Pakistan army has shifted its focus to North Waziristan this year, saying it had cleared the more southerly parts of the area.

Thousands of troops have been deployed to tackle militants in the Afghan border region in the past two years.

Many al-Qaeda and Taleban militants are believed to have slipped into Pakistan after the US forces entered Afghanistan in 2001.

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