The head of al Qa'eda in Pakistan and his lieutenant were killed in the past days, a US counterterrorism official said late yesterday, reportedly struck by a missile fired from an unmanned drone. The men are believed to be Kenyan national Usama al Kini, described as al Qa'eda's chief of operations in Pakistan and his lieutenant Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is every reason to believe that these two top terrorist figures are dead," said the source, adding that the pair was killed "within the last week."
Officials believe al Kini was behind the September 2008 car bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel that killed 60 people, and is linked to a failed assassination attempt on late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The counterintelligence source did not say how the men died, but according to the Washington Post, which first broke the story, the al Qa'eda operatives were killed in a January 1 missile attack in northern Pakistan.
The militants died after being struck with a 45 kilo Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned Predator drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Post reported. The CIA declined to comment on the strikes, but an official told the Post that the men were killed in a strike on a building being used for explosives training. "They died preparing new acts of terror," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The two men are also on the FBI's most wanted list for links with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa. The New Years strike occurred near Karikot in South Waziristan, the Post said. The autonomous tribal area of northwest Pakistan has been racked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and al Qa'eda rebels sought refuge in the region after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001. * AFP