Two suspects slain in strike in Pakistan
Two senior Al Qaeda operatives were killed in a CIA missile strike on New Year’s Day in Pakistan, including a suspect in the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in September, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said Thursday.
The two operatives were also suspects in the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa for which they had been indicted in the United States, the official said.
The missile strike, in South Waziristan, was carried out by a Predator drone aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles and operated by the CIA. It was among dozens of such attacks carried out along Pakistan’s tribal belt in the last year as part of an escalated campaign against Al Qaeda hide-outs.
The official said that CIA analysts had concluded that “these two guys met violent deaths on Jan. 1,” and that “they were believed to be planning additional attacks.”
One of those said to be killed was a Kenyan known by the name Usama al-Kini, who was believed to be Al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan. The other, also a Kenyan native, was identified as Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan.
Both men were on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists and had been indicted in the Southern District of New York. Rewards of $5 million were offered for information leading to the capture of either man.
Their deaths would place them among eight senior Al Qaeda figures reported killed in Predator strikes over the last six months. Others included Rashid Rauf, the suspected mastermind of an alleged plot to blow up several airliners over the Atlantic Ocean in 2006, and Abu Khabab Masri, who was described as an explosives expert in charge of Al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons efforts.
Scores of Pakistani civilians, including women and children, have also died in the U.S. strikes.
The stepped-up missile campaign has been part of a broader U.S. effort launched after a series of high-level intelligence assessments concluded that Al Qaeda was growing stronger in Pakistan’s rugged border region, with fresh inflows of money and militants from Europe and elsewhere.
CIA officials declined to comment on the strike, saying it is policy not to discuss operations. But Director Michael V. Hayden has alluded to the campaign in recent speeches, saying in November that “America and its friends have taken the fight to the enemy.”
On the FBI’s most-wanted website, Kini is identified as Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam, 32. As head of Pakistan operations for Al Qaeda, he played a key role in a series of attacks that have led to a dramatic escalation in violence in that country, American officials have said.
Among the 53 killed in the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the capital, were two U.S. soldiers assigned to the U.S. Embassy.
The 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya killed at least 224 people. Kini and Swedan were believed to have played logistical roles, helping the terrorist network move explosives and operatives from Afghanistan to Africa for the attacks.
Despite protests in Islamabad and elsewhere, the United States has pressured Pakistan to move more aggressively against Al Qaeda and militant groups that support it in the mountainous border territory.
The Pakistani government also has protested the missile strikes, but many people believe the U.S. has been given tacit approval for the attacks.
President-elect Barack Obama said during his campaign that he would not hesitate to send U.S. forces in if Osama bin Laden or other senior Al Qaeda leaders were located and Pakistan did not act.
Late last year, the Bush administration sent U.S. special operations troops across the border in a rare raid on a suspected Al Qaeda compound, but hasn’t done so again after fierce complaints from the Pakistani government.
Times staff writer Laura King in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.