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PAKISTAN

Search for missing Italian and British climbers suspended

Bad weather forced rescuers to call off a search on Friday for two climbers from Britain and Italy who went missing in northern Pakistan on a peak known as "Killer Mountain".

Search for missing Italian and British climbers suspended
Daniele Nardi (L) and Tom Ballard (R), the climbing partners who haven't been heard from since Sunday. Photo: Daniele Nardi/Facebook

Climbers Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard were last heard from on Sunday as they climbed the Nanga Parbat, which at 8,125 metres is the world's ninth-highest peak.

They were attempting a route that has never before been successfully completed. 

Heavy snowfall on Friday kept a helicopter from taking off and a ground team confined to base camp in the western Himalayas.

“Snowfall has reduced the visibility and we expect snowfall for the coming three to four days, which makes it difficult for us to climb up and do a ground search,” Pakistani mountaineer Muhammad Ali Sadpara told AFP by telephone from Nanga Parbat base camp.

He said the the mountaineers had taken the notorious Mummery route, named after a mountaineer who died while attempting it in 1895. The route has never been attempted since then, he said.

“The risk of avalanche makes it [rescue] almost impossible in this weather,” he added.  

Sadpara, along with other four local mountaineers, were airlifted to the base camp for a ground search. A top army aviation official said a Pakistani military helicopter that was set to search from the air was unable to take off due to the snow. 

“The weather prediction for the coming few days is not good, and unfortunately it will make it very difficult for us to fly,” he told AFP.

Four Russian mountaineers currently at the base camp for K2, the world's second highest mountain and also in northern Pakistan, had volunteered to join the search. But a spokesperson for the Russians said the Nanga Parbat climbers' support team had opted instead to carry out the search using drones.  

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Nardi's team said on Facebook that the climbers' tent had been “spotted from a helicopter, buried under snow. Traces of avalanches can be seen”. But Karim Shah, a Pakistani mountaineer and friend of Nardi who is in contact with the team at the base camp and the search team, said that tent was spotted on a different route than the one taken by the missing climbers.

Ballard is the son of British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves, the first woman to conquer Mount Everest solo and without bottled oxygen. She died descending K2 in 1995.

The search was delayed because rescue teams were forced to wait for permission to send up a helicopter after Pakistan closed its airspace on Wednesday in response to escalating tensions with India. 

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AFGHANISTAN

US to compensate families of hostages

The White House on Thursday said the United States would compensate the families' of an American and Italian hostage killed in a counter terrorism operation near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

US to compensate families of hostages
US President Barack Obama said the government would identify any lessons to be learned from the deaths. Obama photo: Shutterstock

"Compensation will be provided to both families," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that the final details had yet to be agreed.

US President Barack Obama expressed his profound regrets on Thursday to the families of Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto and US contractor Warren Weinstein.

"We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy and any changes that should be made. We will do our utmost to ensure it is not repeated," Obama said.

The White House said on Thursday that a US operation in January against an Al Qaeda compound near the Afghan-Pakistan border killed the two hostages, along with an American member of the jihadist group.

Another American, Al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, was killed, "likely in a separate US government counterterrorism operation."

"No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy," the White House said, revealing the previously classified finding. The president "takes full responsibility for these operations."

Lo Porto disappeared in January 2012 in Pakistan.

Weinstein was snatched after gunmen tricked their way into his home in Lahore on August 13th 2011, shortly before he was due to return home after seven years working in Pakistan.

He later appeared in a video in which, under apparent coercion, he asked the United States to free Al-Qaeda prisoners. 

"Analysis of all available information has led the intelligence community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages," the White House said.

"The operation targeted an Al Qaeda-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The White House statement did not identify which US agency carried out the operation, which suggests it was carried out by an intelligence service rather than a military unit.

"We have concluded that Ahmed Faruq, an American who was an Al Qaeda leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto," the White House said.

"We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of Al-Qaeda, was killed in January, likely in a separate US government counter-terrorism operation," it added.

"While both Faruq and Gadahn were Al-Qaeda members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations."

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