Washington: US intelligence agencies believe al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader was killed recently in a missile strike in the tribal areas of Pakistan, officials said on Monday.
The CIA has stepped up the pace of unmanned aerial drone attacks, targeting not only high-level al Qaeda and Taliban targets but largely unknown foot soldiers as well.
A US official said Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, was widely seen as al Qaeda’s No. 3 figure and its main conduit to leader Osama bin Laden.
As al Qaeda’s chief operating officer, he had a hand in everything from finances to operational planning, the official said.
“We have strong reason to believe ... that al-Masri was killed recently in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. “In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory.”
The US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamist websites, said earlier on Monday that al-Qaeda announced al-Masri’s death in an Internet posting.
In addition to al-Masri, the announcement stated that his wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter and other men, women and children were killed, according to SITE.
SITE said al-Masri, an Egyptian, served as the general head of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that his last known public statement, dated May 4, eulogized the deaths of top militants in Iraq.
CIA director Leon Panetta has asserted that attacks against al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions appear to have driven bin Laden and other leaders deeper into hiding, leaving the organization incapable of planning sophisticated operations.
But the White House warned last week of a dangerous “new phase” in the terrorism threat, citing the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and the botched Times Square car bomb attempt earlier this month.
In March, US officials said a drone strike in Pakistan killed a key al Qaeda planner.