The sources said five of those killed in Friday's raid were "high-level al-Qaida figures" whose bodies are undergoing forensic tests for identification, ABC reported.

They said Osama bin Laden's deputy, who has been known to stay at houses in the village, may have been one of the victims.

However, on Friday the US Defence Department denied having conducted operations in the area.

Al-Zawahiri is a doctor who has become al-Qaida's most senior spokesman in videos released in recent months as bin Laden keeps a low profile. He appeared in a new video released last week.

Earlier, Aljazeera reported medical sources as saying that at least 18 people, including women and children, died in Friday's attack in Mamund, in the Bajur tribal zone of eastern Pakistan.

Some witnesses told Aljazeera that about 30 people were killed when helicopters launched missiles on a village in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

 

Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, the Pakistani information minister, said on Saturday: "Our investigation is still going on ... I cannot confirm anything."