PESHAWAR, Jan 18: At least two senior Al Qaeda commanders and a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s second in command, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, are believed to have been killed in last week’s attack in the Bajaur tribal region, credible sources said.
Sources told Dawn that the pre-dawn US aerial assault on three compounds in Damadola, Bajaur, on Friday killed four foreign militants. Eighteen civilians, mostly women and children, were also killed in the deadly attack causing public anger and protest demonstrations. Pakistan condemned the attack and summoned the US ambassador to lodge a formal protest. The government, however, on Tuesday issued an official statement claiming the death of four foreign militants in the attack.
According to the sources, intelligence officials believe that among those killed in the missile attack was Midhat Mursi Al Sayid, Al Qaeda’s chemical and explosives expert, who carries a $5 million reward. Born in April 1953, the Egyptian-born Midhat was known as Abu Khabab Al Masri. According to the sources and information available about him on ‘Rewards for justice’ website, Abu Khabab was a lead explosives and poison expert and served as an instructor for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He operated chemical laboratories and trained militants in explosives at Darunta near Jalalabad in Afghanistan between 1996 and 1998 and later in Kabul until 2001. After Taliban’s fall, Abu Khabab moved to Pakistan and was widely believed to have lived in Shakai, South Waziristan, till February 2004.
According to the website, Abu Khabab produced training manuals containing recipes for crude chemical and biological weapons. Some of these manuals were recovered by US forces in Afghanistan.
Also believed to have been killed in the attack is Abu Obaidah Al Masri, Al Qaeda’s chief of operations for Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province. Abu Obaidah, according to the sources, was leading attacks on US-led coalition forces in Kunar, training and providing material support and liaising between senior Al Qaeda figures, besides providing them with logistic support and security. Some officials believe that he could have been a replacement for Hamza Rabia, Al Qaeda’s operational commander, who was killed in a similar missile attack in Asory village in North Waziristan on December 2.
The third figure believed to have been killed in Bajaur is Abdur Rehman Al Maghribi. A Moroccan citizen, Al Maghribi is son-in-law of Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri and incharge of Al Qaeda’s media department.
There are also reports of the death of Mustafa Usman, an Egyptian national. There is little information available about him.
If intelligence reports about the death of senior Al Qaeda commanders in the attack are correct, this could mean a serious blow to the organization that has recently suffered a string of setbacks, including the death of Hamza Rabia and the capture of Abu Faraj Al Libbi.
A credible source said that it was Abu Faraj, believed to have been No.3 in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, who had told investigators that he had met Ayman Al Zawahiri at Bakhtpur Khan’s residential compound in Damadola. The compound was among the three houses targeted in the US air strike in Bajaur last week. Bakhtpur was killed along with his children in the attack.
It is now almost confirmed that Dr Zawahiri was not at Damadola on the night of the attack. “Had he been there, he would not have come there alone. He would have come with his bodyguards and the casualty figure would have been higher than what has been reported,” said one official.