The head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and his lieutenant were killed recently, a US counterterrorism official said on Thursday, reportedly struck by a missile fired from an unmanned drone.
The men are believed to be Kenyan national Usama al-Kini, described as al-Qaeda’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 they were killed “within the last week.”
Officials believe al-Kini was behind the September truck 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 the Washington Post, which first broke the story, said the al-Qaeda operatives were killed in a Jan. 1 missile attack in northern Pakistan.
Local security officials said on Jan. 1 that an unmanned CIA aircraft had fired three missiles in the Karikot area of South Waziristan, killing five suspected militants.
The New Year’s strike occurred near Karikot in South Waziristan, the Post reported.
The two men were both born in Kenya, the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Web site says. Al-Kini, born Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam in Mombasa, was 32. Swedan’s birth date is given on the Web site as either April 1960 or 1969.
The pair died after being struck with 45kg Hellfire missiles fired from a pilotless Predator drone operated by the CIA, 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 August 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa.
Both have been indicted in connection to the bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi for “murder of US nationals outside the United States; conspiracy to murder US nationals outside the United States; and attack on a federal facility resulting in death,” the Rewards for Justice Web site says.