Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Major Al-Qaeda operative killed in US drone strike

A major Arab Al-Qaeda operative was among six militants killed overnight in a suspected US missile strike in northwest Pakistan, a senior security official told AFP Wednesday.

Security sources identified the militant as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi, a senior member of Osama bin Laden's terror network.

They said US intelligence officials had identified him as the main link between Al-Qaeda's senior command and Taliban networks in the Pakistani border region with Afghanistan.

"He was the man coordinating between Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders on this side of the border, and also involved in recruiting and training fighters," an Islamabad-based senior security official told AFP.

Sources in the Taliban said al-Saudi was also a member of Taliban's supreme council, or Shura, under its fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar when it moved from Afghanistan to the Pakistani side of the border about a year ago.

"He was closely linked to Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri," a Taliban source added.

Following the strike, al-Zawahiri warned US president-elect Barack Obama against sending more troops to Afghanistan saying that US policy was "doomed to failure" in an Internet audio message.

A security official said the US missile strike was carried out on intelligence that al-Saudi was in a house belonging to a tribesman in the Bannu district, which borders restive North Waziristan.

It was the first alleged US missile strike outside the tribal region which is described by the United States as home to Al-Qaeda's command and control structure.

Terror network chief Osama bin Laden is also widely believed to be hiding in the rugged region, although there is no clear information about his whereabouts.

Al-Saudi is the second high-profile Al-Qaeda operative killed in recent apparent US missile strikes near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Egyptian Abu Jihad al-Masri, described by the US as the terror network's propaganda chief, was among several rebels killed in a November 1 missile strike in North Waziristan, a known hub of Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels.

At least five Taliban militants were also killed when Pakistani artillery pounded their hideouts through the night in a restive tribal region near the Afghanistan border, local administration official Mohammad Jamil told AFP.

The clashes took place in the Mamoon and Nawagai areas in Bajaur tribal region, where the military launched an operation against Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants in August.

"Troops fired artillery on militant hideouts and underground bunkers Tuesday night, killing five rebels and wounding three others," Jamil said.

Islamabad says its operation in Bajaur refutes criticism by the US and Afghanistan that Pakistan is not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to attack US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Washington has seemingly stepped up its missile strikes on the region since March, when a civilian government took over from General Pervez Musharraf, who turned Pakistan into a close US ally in the "war on terror".

Recent strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts, all blamed on unmanned CIA drones, have come despite warnings from Pakistan that such attacks violate international law and could deepen resentment of the United States in the world's second-largest Islamic nation.

Pakistan has officially protested to the United States that strikes violate its sovereign territory, although some officials say there was a tacit understanding between the two militaries to allow such action.

President Asif Ali Zardari recently promised zero tolerance against violations of his country's sovereignty.

No comments: