‘Key Qaeda figure died in Bajaur strike’
* US official describes Jazairi as explosives expert and ‘terrorist trainer’
* Officials believe systematic assault on terrorists paying off
Daily Times Monitor
LAHORE: An Al Qaeda figure killed in a United States airstrike in Bajaur last week is believed to have been an Algerian allegedly involved in training militants and plotting attacks against the West, officials told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
They said the Algerian, known by the nickname Abu Sulayman Jazairi, apparently died on May 14 in the strike that killed 14 people and destroyed a compound near the village of Damadola.
A knowledgeable US official and a senior European anti-terrorism official told the Times that Jazairi was thought to be dead.
They said that US anti-terrorism forces were targeting frontline planners in Pakistani hideouts, and Jazairi would be another in a series of recent losses for the Al Qaeda leadership.
“He was a significant person within the Al Qaeda ranks,” said the European official, requesting anonymity. “Not in the top five, but he’s up there. The suspicion is he was one of those individuals involved in training and targeting Western interests. There is uncorroborated intelligence that he was involved in plots against Europe.”
According to the Times, officials declined to discuss last week’s operation because of political tension in Pakistan over US airstrikes. In fact, it added, some doubt lingers about the identity of the man killed. The report referred to a statement of a senior Pakistani official in which he said he believed the slain man was not the Algerian but another foreign militant.
Despite the confusion, the US and European officials told the paper that their information about the militant’s identity seemed solid.
“There are good reasons to think that Al Jazairi is dead,” the US official said. The European official said that there recently had been allusions to Jazairi’s death on radical websites.
Explosives expert: Jazairi was an explosives expert and “important terrorist trainer”, the US official said.
“When it comes to training, this individual was an important figure ... People like him are vital to terrorist plots. That doesn’t mean he can’t be replaced. But when Al Qaeda loses someone with his experience, it matters.”
Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, have eluded pursuers, the report said, adding that an airstrike on Damadola in 2006 was thought to have narrowly missed Zawahiri.
Paying off: But officials said that a systematic assault on operational bosses was seemed to be paying off. A Libyan chief died in January during one of a flurry of airstrikes in Pakistan this year, according to the Times. Abu Ubaida Al Masri, the network’s external operations chief, died of an infectious disease about the same time and his Iraqi predecessor was captured in late 2006, it adds.
Officials said Jazairi surfaced in Pakistan about six years ago and was a mid-level figure who gained stature as other plotters and trainers fell. “He was someone you could imagine as a potential successor to Masri,” the European official said.
Louis Caprioli, a former anti-terrorism chief of France’s DST intelligence agency, said the increasing success and pace of airstrikes this year indicates that American spy agencies and their allies have made progress in infiltrating Al Qaeda in Pakistan.