'Top al-Qaida figures killed'

ISLAMABAD: An al-Qaida bomb expert with a US$5 million bounty on his head and a son-in-law of the group's No 2 were among four militants believed killed by a US airstrike last week, Pakistani intelligence sources said yesterday.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed acknowledged that "a few militants" had been killed in Friday's attack, which also killed 18 civilians, but said their bodies had not been recovered and their identity was under investigation.

However, intelligence sources said they believed they knew the names of three men killed in the attack, which US officials say was aimed at al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri.

Pakistani intelligence sources said al-Zawahri was not at the scene of the attack, but one of the dead was thought to be one of his sons-in-law, Abdul Rehman Al-Misri al Maghribi, who was responsible for al-Qaida's media department.

Another was Midhat Mursi al-Sayid 'Umar, an expert in explosives and poisons who carried a US$5 million on his head from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Pakistani officials gave a slightly different spelling for the name, but the FBI says 'Umar ran a training camp at Derunta in Afghanistan and since 1999 had proliferated training manuals containing crude recipes for chemical and biological weapons.

ABC News and the New York Times, citing Pakistani officials, also reported that the 52-year-old Egyptian had been killed.

"If this person is gone, it is significant. His loss, and the loss of people like him, would certainly be a blow to al-Qaida in the region," said a US counter-terrorism official, who asked not to be identified.

The third man identified by Pakistani intelligence officers was Abu Obaidah al Misri, al Qaeda's chief of operations in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, where US and Afghan forces regularly come under militant attack.

Militants invited to feast

The senior administrator in the Bajaur tribal district, where the attack took place, said on Tuesday that four or five militants from among 10-12 foreigners invited to a feast at the village of Damadola were thought to have been killed.

One Pakistani intelligence official said Khalid Habib, head of al-Qaida's operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, may have also have been among the dead, but another official said there was no evidence to prove this.

The officials said they were still trying to identify one other al-Qaida member believed to have been killed.

They said pro-militant Muslim clerics removed the bodies from the scene after the 3 am strike and one added of the identities: "This information is based on intelligence."

Zawahri had been the main target, US officials said, but Pakistani intelligence sources say he was not present.

Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, but news of the civilian deaths prompted a formal protest by Islamabad and demonstrations in several towns and cities.

Chanting "Death to America!" and "Jihad, Jihad!" more than 1,000 supporters of an Islamic group rallied yesterday through two crowded bazaars to condemn the US air strike.

The latest rally followed larger protests over the weekend in which more than 10,000 angry people took to the streets to protest.

Demonstrators yesterday marched through the market areas of this northwestern city near the border province of Bajur, where the attack took place, burning two effigies of US President George W. Bush. There were no reports of violence.

Friday's strike was the third believed to have been carried out since May by CIA-operated Predator drone aircraft in Pakistani tribal lands near the Afghan border.

Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian said to have been al-Qaida's No 3 commander, was killed in December, and a known al-Qaida bombmaker, Haitham al-Yemeni, was killed in May.

In both cases Pakistan denied the men were killed by US missiles, but witnesses found US missile parts at the scene and in Rabia's case said they had seen the thin white drone.

Source: China Daily

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