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Pakistan probes reports that senior al qaida figure killed in missile

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Pakistan probed reports today that a senior al-Qaida figure was among six people killed in a suspected U.S. missile strike, while in Washington Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed anger that Pakistan’s sovereignty had been violated.

Pakistan’s army says it had not confirmed that yesterdays strike killed al-Qaida operative Abu Khabab al-Masri, described by Washington as an expert who trained so called terrorists in the use of poisons and explosives.

But two Pakistani intelligence officials say they believed al-Masri had died, and an American official in Washington expressed cautious optimism. The U.S. offers a US$5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

The American official says "There is a real sense that this guy is gone". But he cautioned that there was no material evidence yet to confirm al-Masri’s death, such as a photograph of the dead man at the bomb site.

The pre-dawn strike on a border village in the South Waziristan tribal region came hours before Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.

There is rising Western pressure on the four-month-old Pakistan government to act against Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds in its frontier region with Afghanistan amid concern that peace deals have given fighters more freedom to operate.