Bajaur airstrike — three Qaeda militants identified
ISLAMABAD: Three of the foreign militants killed in the January 13 air strikes in the Bajaur Agency have been identified, including the son-in-law of the network’s number two Ayman al-Zawahri, ABC News said on Thursday.
One of the dead was said to be 52-year-old Midhat Mursi, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, a top Al Qaeda bomb maker with a five million dollar reward on his head, according to ABC News.
Another was reported to be Abu Obaidah al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s chief of operations for the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, a local newspaper said.
The third was Abdur Rehman al-Maghribi, the Moroccan son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden’s top lieutenant Zawahri and the head of Al Qaeda’s media operations.
The fourth militant has not been identified but reports said that he may have been an Egyptian national named Mustafa Usman.
One Pakistani intelligence official said that Khalid Habib, head of Al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, may have also have been among the dead, but another official said that there was no evidence to prove this.
US officials were unable to confirm the report on Mursi, and appeared to have doubts that he had been definitively identified. “It’s an open-ended question on who was at the site of the attack,” said one official.
Egyptian Zawahri was the target of last Friday’s attack by Central Intelligence Agency Predator drones, US intelligence sources have said, but Pakistani officials say that he was likely not there at the time.
Government officials said on Tuesday that four or five “foreign terrorists” were killed in the missile raid after being invited for a dinner in Damadola village in the Bajaur tribal agency.
Eighteen civilians also were reported killed in the strike, prompting large protests over the weekend. “Obviously, a decision along these lines (to launch an attack) is not taken lightly and you can be assured that it was based on very solid information,” said a US counter-terrorism official.
Pakistani officials said that they found 18 freshly dug graves but two were empty. On Tuesday, Bajaur’s administrator said that two local militants had removed the bodies of foreigners after the air strike.
If Mursi has been killed, the US official said, “that would be a very significant development”.
A five million dollar reward for Mursi’s capture is posted on a State Department list of wanted Al Qaeda leaders. The State Department posting says that Mursi operated a training camp in Derunta, Afghanistan, where hundreds of mujahideen were trained in the use of poisons and explosives. He produced training manuals with recipes for crude chemicals and biological weapons, some of which were recovered by US forces in Afghanistan, it said.
The US official said that Mursi also was associated with videotaped poison gas experiments on dogs in Afghanistan.
Some officials said that Abu Obaidah al-Masri could have been a replacement for Al Qaeda’s suspected head of operations Hamza Rabia, who Pakistan said was killed in December in North Waziristan. agencies