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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

80 Killed in Attack on Pakistani School

KHAR, Pakistan -- Pakistani army helicopters killed around 80 suspected militants Monday in a dawn attack on a religious school run by a pro-Taliban commander wanted for harboring al-Qaida fighters, a military spokesman said.

Residents said there were children among the dead.

The army said the religious school, or madrasa, in Chenagai, 10 kilometers north of Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, was being used as a militant training camp.

The strike killed almost everyone present in the madrasa, although at least three wounded were taken to a hospital in Khar.

"According to our local sources, up to 80 deaths have been confirmed," Major-General Shaukat Sultan said. "The compound has been destroyed," he said.

Residents said they had seen three or four army helicopters flying over Chenagai at around 5 a.m local time.

No prominent militant was believed to be in the compound when it was attacked, Sultan said. Security officials said Maulana Liaqatullah, the pro-Taliban commander who ran the madrasa, was among those killed. Sultan said there were no women or children present.

But a reporter in Chenagai described villagers wailing in grief as they collected mutilated bodies, some belonging to children as young as 7, from the rubble.

"The bodies are beyond recognition. They are badly mutilated. Limbs were being collected by local people in cloth sheets," the reporter said.

"There were pupils as young as 7 who were also killed," said Syed Wali, a villager in Chenagai.

Thousands of tribesmen rallied in Khar chanting "Down with America," "Down with Bush" and "Down with Musharraf," referring to Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's most influential Islamist party, also condemned the attack.

Party leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed said the slaying of Liaqatullah and his pupils was "brutal and barbaric," while a senior minister from the party resigned in protest from the provincial government in North West Frontier Province.

Last January, Liaqatullah was believed to have had contacts with al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri that led to a CIA drone aircraft missile attack on Damadola village in Bajaur.

Pakistan's lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border has been a haven for Islamist militants for decades and a large number of al-Qaida and Taliban guerrillas fled there after the U.S.-led hunt for them in Afghanistan began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Monday's attack came two days after some 3,000 militants held a rally near Khar, chanting slogans in support of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Talks between tribal elders and militants to reach a peace deal on the lines of the one struck in North Waziristan last month appeared to have failed, local clerics said.

A mountainous region that is difficult to access, Bajaur lies opposite Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar, where U.S. troops are leading the hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.