By ERIC SCHMITT
January 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — An American missile strike on Jan. 1 in Pakistan’s tribal areas killed two senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including one militant suspected of overseeing last September’s deadly suicide bombing at a Marriott Hotel in Pakistan’s capital, an American counterterrorism official said Thursday.
In the past week, American officials have concluded that Hellfire missiles fired from a remotely piloted Predator aircraft operated by the C.I.A. killed a Kenyan citizen who used the name Usama al-Kini and who was described as Al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan, as well as his Kenyan lieutenant, identified as Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan, the official said.
Both militants have been linked to suicide attacks in Pakistan in recent months, and were also on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list for ties to the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Mr. Kini, whose death was first reported on The Washington Post’s Web site on Thursday, was at least the eighth senior Qaeda leader killed in an increasingly aggressive C.I.A. air campaign to attack top militants who have carved out a sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.
The C.I.A. declined to comment on the reported deaths of the top Qaeda operatives, reflecting the secrecy surrounding the Predator strikes along the border that have stirred anger among Pakistan’s political and military leaders, and the residents of the mountainous region.
But an American counterterrorism official confirmed that the airstrikes in South Waziristan on Jan. 1 were successful. “There is every reason to believe that these two individuals have met their end,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the missile strikes.
“Al-Kini was a rising and lethal operations figure within Al Qaeda,” the official added. “The demise of a succession of senior Al Qaeda figures is certain to have at least a near-term debilitating effect on the group.”
As part of the intensified attacks in recent months, the C.I.A. has expanded its list of targets in Pakistan and has received approval from the government there to bolster eavesdropping operations in the border region, according to American officials.
Once largely reserved for missions to kill senior Arab Qaeda operatives, the Predator has since last summer been increasingly used to strike Pakistani militants and even trucks carrying rockets to resupply fighters in Afghanistan. Many of the Predator strikes are taking place as deep as 25 miles into Pakistani territory, not just along the border.
Mr. Kini, whose given name was Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam and who was believed to be 32 years old, was active in training terrorists in Africa in the 1990s, the American official said. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for his role as a central planner in the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Kini became head of Al Qaeda’s operations in Zabul Province in Afghanistan. At the same time, he oversaw operations to recruit and train operatives and raise money in the Horn of Africa, the American official said.
By 2007, Mr. Kini had been tapped as Al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan, and was a mastermind of a string of suicide attacks against the Pakistani police, military personnel and political figures, the American official said. He was behind the failed attempt to assassinate Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, in Karachi in October of that year, as well the truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last September that killed more than 50 people. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007.
Senior military and counterterrorism officials say the increased Predator strikes have disrupted planning, pushed some insurgents deeper into Pakistan, prompted some militant commanders to post additional sentries and forced the militants to use their cellphones and satellite phones, which American eavesdropping operations can monitor.
But American officials also acknowledge that Al Qaeda has shown surprising resilience and a knack for regrouping quickly under new operational commanders.
The New York Times
Read report on BBC Urdu