ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Thousands of angry tribesmen and Islamists protested Friday across Pakistan against an airstrike that killed 80 people at a religious school near the Afghan border this week, as state TV aired video footage purportedly showing militants in training there before the attack.

More than 5,000 people rallied in the Bajur tribal region, scene of Monday’s airstrike that destroyed a madrassa, or Islamic seminary, run by a Pakistani cleric with alleged ties to al-Qaida No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri. They demanded government compensation for relatives of the dead.

Religious hardliners gathered in other key cities across Pakistan, railing against America and key anti-terror ally, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Bajur residents and Islamic parties claim the strike was launched by U.S. drones and that the victims were either religious students or teachers.

Pakistan and the U.S. military have denied American involvement. Islamabad says the 80 dead were militants being trained to fight in neighboring Afghanistan where U.S. forces are based, and that Pakistani army helicopters fired the missiles that killed them.

“We reject the government claim that America is not behind this attack,” tribal leader Akhwanzada Chitan told protesters who gathered near the town of Khar, where shops were shuttered and public transport stayed off the roads. He urged the government to apologize for killing “innocent people” and to pay compensation to their families.

Thousands of ethnic Pashtuns rallied in the southern city of Karachi, the border town of Chaman and the northwestern city of Peshawar. Hundreds more people demonstrated in the cities of Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad and Multan, where women in shawls staged a protest.

Most of the demonstrators were supporters of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, a hardline Islamic coalition. Since the attack, tribesmen in Bajur have threatened to launch suicide attacks on Pakistani forces, but Friday’s protests were peaceful.

Late Thursday, state-run Pakistan Television broadcast aerial surveillance video shot with an infrared camera that the government said showed men receiving militant training before the attack at the madrassa. The dark, monochrome footage showed people running in a circle and doing simple physical exercises. No weapons were visible.

Security officials say the footage was shot a day before the airstrike. Bajur lies opposite Afghanistan’s rugged Kunar province, where U.S. forces are deployed against insurgents linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Officials also claim that al-Zawahri, the deputy of Osama bin Laden, had previously visited the madrassa.

In January, a purported U.S. missile attack hit another border village in Bajur where officials say al-Zawahri had been due to attend a dinner. Intelligence officials say 13 civilians were killed as well as some senior al-Qaida operatives, although authorities never located the bodies of any terror suspects. Al-Zawahri was not hurt.


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