Pakistani officials said Saturday that Al Qaeda’s operations chief -- wanted for his alleged role in a plot to bomb New York’s subway system -- was killed in a gun battle with security forces near the Afghanistan border.
Adnan Shukrijumah died and five associates were arrested by Pakistani forces in the South Waziristan tribal region early Saturday, according to Inter-Services Public Relations, the mouthpiece of Pakistan’s army.
The army did not disclose details of the battle, but sources with knowledge of the situation said that Shukrijumah’s body was in Pakistani custody. One soldier was killed while five others were injured, the sources said.
The reports could not immediately be verified.
If confirmed, Shukrijumah’s death would represent another blow to Al Qaeda’s top leadership. U.S. officials believed that Shukrijumah was serving in the role once filled by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Saudi-born Shukrijumah, 39, who lived for several years in the United States and attended a mosque in Florida, allegedly trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and was being groomed to carry out post-Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
In 2010, he was indicted for his alleged role in a plot to unleash suicide bombers in the subway systems of New York and London. According to federal law enforcement officials, the plot, which was never carried out, had been hatched by senior Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and involved militants with links to Western countries.
The FBI had issued a $5-million reward for information leading to Shukrijumah’s capture.
Shukrijumah would be the first high profile militant commander killed since Pakistani forces launched an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal area in June. The offensive has coincided with an increase in activity by unmanned U.S. drones, which have carried out a series of deadly airstrikes against suspected militants in recent months, according to local residents.
Residents speaking by phone said that Pakistani forces early Saturday raided a compound in Sheen Warsak, about five miles west of the administrative capital of South Waziristan. An exchange of fire took place, but it was unclear if Shukrijumah was killed in that incident.
Pakistani security officials, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media, said that Shukrijumah and associates had moved from North Waziristan to South Waziristan after the operation began. Local officials recently called on tribal elders in South Waziristan to expel militants from the area.
More than half a million civilians have been displaced from North Waziristan since the operation began. The Pakistani army claims that more than 1,200 suspected militants have been killed, but the claim is impossible to verify.
Ali is a special correspondent. Staff writer Bengali reported from Lumbini, Nepal.