Drone Kills a Leader of Al Qaeda
The Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. drone strike this week killed a senior al Qaeda operator in a Pakistani tribal area near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Friday.
U.S. officials said Saleh al-Somali, who was responsible for al Qaeda's operations outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, was killed in the strike Tuesday. He was on the Central Intelligence Agency's list of the top 20 al Qaeda targets, according to an official familiar with the list.
On Friday, officials in Pakistan said intelligence officers on the ground had identified the dead militant as Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al Qaeda figure higher on the CIA's list of terrorist targets.
Mr. Somali was likely involved in planning attacks against the U.S. and Europe, and maintained links to Pakistan-based militants plotting attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.
"He's a big fish when it comes to [al Qaeda's] efforts to strike in the West," said Vahid Brown, a research fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.
Mr. Somali moved up the al Qaeda ranks, initially working on the group's propaganda operations and working with Western recruits when they traveled to Pakistan's tribal areas, the official said.
"He took strategic guidance from [al Qaeda's] top leadership and translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks," the counterterrorism official said.
A native of Somalia, Mr. Somali maintained relationships with al Qaeda's East African affiliates, including the Somalian terrorist group al Shabaab, U.S. officials said.
The report of Mr. Somali's death couldn't be immediately confirmed by the Pakistanis.
The State Department has offered a $1 million award for information leading to the capture of Mr. Libi.
The pace of U.S. drone attacks has slowed in recent months as Pakistan mounted its own counterterrorism offensive.