A top al-Qaida operative was killed earlier this week in Pakistan's tribal areas, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday. The death landed another blow against the besieged terrorist network.
The man killed was Abu Hafs al-Shahri, whom two U.S. officials describe as al-Qaida's chief of operations in Pakistan.
Though his name is little known beyond intelligence circles, Al-Shahri is described as dangerous by both the Pakistani and U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe classified counterterrorist operations.
He was apparently killed by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, though officials would not describe the method since the program is classified. A drone strike was reported by locals on Sunday night.
The officials say al-Shahri worked closely with the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks inside Pakistan, and was also a contender to assume some duties of al-Qaida's second in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. Al-Rahman was killed by a CIA drone strike in late August.
U.S. officials believe they can cripple the core al-Qaida organization if they take out the top four or five figures, following the killing in May of al-Qaida chief Osama by Laden by Navy SEALs. Eight of the network's top 20 leaders were killed this year alone, according to the Pentagon's undersecretary for defense intelligence, Michael Vickers, in remarks this week. Vickers predicted that with sustained counterterrorist operations, "within 18-24 months, core al-Qaida's cohesion and operational capabilities could be degraded to the point that the group could fragment and exist mostly as a propaganda arm."
But Vickers and CIA director David Petraeus said al-Qaida's offshoots will remain a serious threat to the U.S.
A Pakistani intelligence official says Pakistani operations chief al-Shahri was a Saudi national, who had lived in the tribal regions of Pakistan, bordering eastern Afghanistan, since 2002.
One of the U.S. officials said the same individual is No. 11 on Saudi Arabia's top-85 most wanted terror suspects, where his full name is listed as Osama Hamoud Gharman Al-Shihri. The official said the same person is No. 68 on Interpol's most wanted list, where his name was spelled "Al-Shehri" and his birthdate was listed as Sept. 17, 1981.
Al-Shahri engaged in liaison mainly with Pakistan's Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan to conduct coordinated attacks against targets inside Pakistan, one of the U.S. officials said. But al-Qaida also inspired the Pakistani Taliban to undertake its first known overseas attack, when a U.S. based operative tried and failed to detonate a car bomb in Times Square last year.
Al-Shahri's killing was first reported by NBC News.
Al-Qaida's senior planner of global terror operations, Adnan Shukrijumah, remains at large.
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AP writer Matt Apuzzo contributed from Washington, and AP writer Riaz Khan contributed to this story from Peshawar.