By Haji Mujtaba
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - U.S. drone aircraft killed at least 24 suspected militants in two attacks on Tuesday in Pakistan's North Waziristan, a major al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary, Pakistani security officials said.
It was the fourth drone missile strike on militants in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, since a failed bid to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square on May 1.
The United States is convinced Pakistani Taliban militants allied with al Qaeda and operating out of northwestern border regions were behind the attempted New York bombing.
In the first of Tuesday's two drone attacks, more than 12 missiles were fired in Dattakhel village, about 30 km (20 miles) west of Miranshah, North Waziristan.
"Three missiles hit a vehicle and three militants sitting in it were killed," said an intelligence agency official in the region, who declined to be identified.
The drones then fired a barrage of missiles at a nearby militant compound, killing at least 11 more, according to a second security official.
There was no word on the identity of any of the militants killed but the attack was in an area where members of an Afghan Taliban faction led by a commander known as Gul Bahadur operate. Foreign fighters linked to al Qaeda are known to be in the area.
The second attack was on a militant camp on the border with Afghanistan, some distance from the first strike. Two missiles killed at least 10 militants, intelligence officials and residents said. Taliban officials were not available for comment.
Pakistani Taliban fleeing a Pakistani offensive launched late last year on their South Waziristan bastion are believed to have taken refuge in North Waziristan and other Pashtun-dominated regions, including Orakzai, where the military has stepped up its attacks in recent weeks.
Helicopter gunships killed eight militants and destroyed three of their hideouts in Orakzai on Tuesday, a government official said. There was no independent verification of the casualties.
"NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT"
Pakistan has come under fresh U.S. pressure to crack down on militants in North Waziristan following the failed bombing in New York claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, which has fighters in northwestern areas including North Waziristan.
The New York bomb plot suspect, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, 30, was arrested on Monday last week, two days after authorities say he parked a crude car bomb in Times Square. Officials say he has been cooperating in the investigation.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said ties between Islamabad and Washington had not suffered as a result of the Times Square incident.
"There is nothing to worry about, our relationship is smooth and it is moving toward a partnership," he told reporters.
Pakistan publicly objects to attacks by CIA pilotless aircraft, saying they are a violation of its sovereignty and fuel anti-U.S. feelings that complicate its efforts against militancy.
Unofficially, however, analysts say Pakistan cooperates with the United States in identifying at least some of the militant targets attacked by the drones.
On Sunday, at least six militants were killed in a similar strike in the same area.
Late last month, Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, who was reported to have been killed in a drone strike in January, appeared in Internet videos threatening suicide strikes in the United States.
Last year, a drone killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was accused of assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, in South Waziristan near the Afghan border.
(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani, Zeeshan Haider and Hasan Mehmood; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)