A SENIOR al-Qa’ida commander – believed to have been in line to become deputy – has been killed in a US drone attack on Pakistan, dealing a further blow to the global terrorist group in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s execution in May.
US officials confirmed yesterday that Abu Hafs al-Shahri, 30, a Saudi and the al-Qa’ida operations chief, was killed in the tribal agency of North Waziristan on Sunday, three weeks after the group’s second-in-command, Attiyah Abd al-Rahman, died in another drone strike.
Shahri is believed to have co-ordinated al-Qa’ida’s activities in Pakistan against the US, and worked with the Taliban to stage attacks within Pakistan.
Information seized from the bin Laden compound during the US raid in May is understood to have led to the latest attacks, which one US official said had resulted in the terror group “losing people faster than they can put them in”.
CIA director David Petraeus told congress this week the US had a “window of opportunity” following bin Laden’s killing to defeat al-Qa’ida’s central operations in Pakistan.
The latest CIA strike, near the Waziristan town of Mir Ali, also killed a leader of the Haqqani network, which uses the region as a base to launch attacks against Afghan and US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for several attacks in Afghanistan, including a massive truck-bomb in Wardak last weekend that killed four Afghan soldiers and wounded 77 US troops.
US and NATO military commanders blamed the Haqqani network for the 20-hour siege of central Kabul this week, in which militants attacked NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters and the US embassy, killing 14 people.
The stand-off ended on Wednesday, when US-led troops killed the last two insurgents holed up in a multi-storey construction site next to the compounds.
A day later, bombers attacked anti-Taliban militia members attending a funeral in Pakistan’s Lower Dir, killing 34 people.
Two suspects linked to the Kabul assault – one of the largest and most sophisticated attacks on the Afghan capital – were captured in the eastern province of Khost yesterday.
An ISAF spokesman said one was believed to be an Afghan Taliban insurgent and the other from the Haqqani network, founded by terrorist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.
US relations with Pakistan have soured in the wake of the bin Laden raid.
The two nations were again at loggerheads this week after US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington would attack insurgents in Pakistan. Pakistani officials described the threats as out of line.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen and Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kayani are to meet on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Spain this weekend to begin mending ties.
It will be their first meeting since the May 2 raid in which US Navy SEALs, without notifying Islamabad, killed the al-Qa’ida leader in Abbottabad.