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Religious school that India says it bombed looks undamaged and deserted

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Religious school that India says it bombed looks undamaged and deserted
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By Saad Sayeed

JABA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Days after India said its warplanes hit a militant Islamist group’s training camp on the site of a religious school in northeastern Pakistan, killing a large number of militants, the site appeared undamaged and deserted.

A Reuters team saw the madrasa, or religious school, on Thursday from 100 metres away at the site of a crater where two Indian missiles struck. The building itself, located on top of a hill and surrounded by pine trees, did not show any signs of damage or activity.

High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday also showed that the madrasa, said to be run by militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, appears to be still standing and virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility.

Local residents told Reuters the school, near Jaba village and the town of Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was no longer operational.

“It was shut down in June last year,” said one resident, who asked not to be identified.

Pointing to a white building on top of one of the hills around Jaba, one villager said “that used to be the madrasa but it is no longer active”.

The site matched the coordinates of the satellite images.

Another man, Mohammad Naseem, said there were madrasas in the area that opened during the 1978-88 rule of General Zia-ul-Haq but “there is no madrasa or anything like that here anymore”. Zia’s Islamisation policies are widely seen as having radicalized Pakistani society.

Reuters was not allowed to access the madrasa site from a different road as Pakistani security officials cited security concerns for keeping the area clear.

Military officials stationed near the site did not want to talk about the JeM facility but said no damage was caused to any buildings and there was no loss of life in the Indian attack, echoing what local villagers said.

“They say they killed 300 people but they didn’t even get 300 trees,” said one soldier posted at the site of the Indian attack said.

“Thank God they didn’t destroy the four or five homes that are here.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said its missiles on Feb. 26 hit all the intended targets at the madrasa site.

India’s foreign and defence ministries did not reply to emailed questions sent in the past few days seeking comment on what is shown in the satellite images and whether they undermine its official statements on the air strikes.

India launched the strikes in response to a Feb. 14 attack, claimed by JeM, in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police and sharply increased tensions between India and Pakistan.

(Reporting and writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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