Taliban blow up NATO tankers to avenge drone attacks

Agence France-Presse | October 6, 2010

The Taliban in Pakistan's Islamist northwest -- home to an alleged terror plot targeting Europe -- said Wednesday their militants had again blown up NATO oil tankers to avenge US drone attacks.
The militants opened fire on a depot housing 40 tankers on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Quetta, killing a member of staff and destroying at least 18 vehicles, in the fourth such attack in a week.

"There were about eight to 10 attackers. They came in two cars and started shooting tankers and set them on fire," police official Hamid Shakeel told AFP.

Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack and other raids this week in which nearly 60 trucks were torched and three people died.

They vowed more attacks to disrupt NATO's supply route through Pakistan and to avenge a new wave of US drone strikes targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants linked to the alleged terror plot against European cities.

"We claim responsibility for attacking and torching NATO tankers in Quetta today," Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP. "We will further intensify attacks with the intensification of US drone strikes on us."

The United States has massively ramped up its drone campaign in Pakistan's lawless northwest tribal region on the Afghan border, which it calls the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda.

Pakistani authorities have reported 24 attacks since September 3 which have killed more than 140 people in the region, a hub for homegrown and foreign militants fighting in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's US envoy said Wednesday that the increase in drone strikes was linked to an alleged Mumbai-style terror plot targeting Europe.

The Al-Qaeda plot conceived in Pakistan reportedly targets Britain, France and Germany with a wave of commando-style attacks on key landmarks including Paris's Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

French police on Tuesday arrested 12 people and seized guns in a series of anti-terror raids.

The ambassador in Washington, Hussein Haqqani, told the BBC that the increase in strikes in North Waziristan came after intelligence agencies uncovered a plot to "attack multiple targets in Europe".

He also said that a drone strike on Monday in the district which killed eight militants, including five Germans, was linked to the plot.

"I think that the activity we see in North Waziristan in terms of strikes... is connected to the terrorist warnings that we have heard about potential strikes in Europe," he said.

British-Pakistani militant Abdul Jabbar was killed in another US drone strike last month, according to the BBC, which said he was being groomed to head a new Al-Qaeda splinter group in Britain tasked with attacking Europe.

The United States does not as a rule confirm drone attacks, but its military and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the pilotless aircraft in the region.

The latest tanker attack came as the main land route for NATO supplies crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan remained closed for a seventh day running.

Pakistan shut the route in protest at a cross-border NATO helicopter attack that officials blamed for the deaths of three Pakistani soldiers. The alliance has said it shot back in self-defence.

Some 6,500 lorries are at a standstill, waiting for the reopening of the route, Shakirullah Afridi, president of the Khyber transport association told AFP by telephone.

"The problem is that American drone attacks are increasing and the Taliban are now taking revenge on us. We have no place to go," said Afridi.

A Pakistani Frontier Corps official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the border authorities were working to improve security for the drivers.

He said officials were waiting for a joint statement by the Pakistan government and NATO forces on the helicopter firing, before reopening the crossing.

Since the key route closed, tankers carrying fuel to the 152,000-strong NATO forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan have been attacked near the capital Islamabad, in Baluchistan and in Pakistan's south.