NEW YORK — A high-ranking Al-Qaeda figure was killed Dec. 10 in an attack by a drone aircraft in north-west Pakistan, a U.S. official told America’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC) News.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official did not reveal the identity of the person killed, but said that it was not Al-Qaeda’s supreme leader, Osama bin Laden. If the report is confirmed, it would be the first time coalition forces had killed a top Al-Qaeda figure in almost a year.
The official said the killing was the result of stepped-up operations targeting Al-Qaeda leaders in recent weeks.
NATO has long targeted men who held Al-Qaeda’s third ranking position of director of international operations. Five of them, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is facing trial in New York, have been killed or captured since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York’s World Trade Centre.
Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are of symbolic importance as Al-Qaeda’s top two leaders, but the third man is considered the group's director of operations, according to the New York Times.
In a related development, U.S. officials are talking with Islamabad about expansion of the drone programme in Pakistan and the possibility of using drones for strikes in Baluchistan province, where Pakistan is already facing a low-level insurgency from rebels seeking autonomy.
Drone strikes thus far have been limited to Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal regions near the Afghan border, semi-autonomous lands that are believed to be sanctuaries for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Some of the most prominent militants reported killed by drone attacks include senior Al-Qaeda member Abu Laith al-Libi and chemical and biological weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri.
A drone missile strike in August killed Pakistani Taliban (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was responsible for many suicide bombings, including the attack that killed Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, according to Pakistani officials.