A U.S. drone strike has killed a senior al-Qaida leader in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said, in the latest blow to the Islamic militant network.
Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house Thursday near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Al-Kuwaiti appeared in many videos released by al-Qaida's media wing, Al-Sahab, and was presented as a religious scholar for the group.
Earlier this year, he replaced Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaida's second in command, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan in June, the intelligence officials said. Al-Libi was a key religious figure within al-Qaida and also a prominent militant commander.
Al-Kuwaiti appeared to be a less prominent figure and was not part of the U.S. State Department's list of most wanted terrorist suspects, as al-Libi had been.
Covert CIA drone strikes have killed a series of senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Pakistan's tribal region over the past few years. The attacks are controversial because the secret nature of the program makes it difficult to determine how many civilians are being killed.
On Sunday, four drone-launched missiles blew apart a house near Miran Shah, another main town in North Waziristan, killing three suspected militants, intelligence officials said. North Waziristan has become the main hub for al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials often criticize such strikes as a violation of the country's sovereignty, which has helped make them extremely unpopular in the country. But senior Pakistani officials are known to have cooperated with strikes in the past, and many people believe they still do.
Al-Kuwaiti's wife and daughter were wounded in Thursday's drone attack, according to the intelligence officials. His wife died a day later at a hospital in Miran Shah.
Al-Kuwaiti was buried in Tappi village near Mir Ali on Friday, the officials said.
A Pakistani Taliban commander who frequently visits North Waziristan told the Associated Press by telephone that he met some Arab fighters on Saturday who were "very aggrieved." The Arabs told him they lost a "big leader" in a drone strike, but would not reveal his name or his exact position in al-Qaida.
The Taliban commander spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of revealing his identity to the Pakistani government.
Al-Qaida's central leadership in Pakistan has been dealt a series of sharp blows in the past few years, including the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad last year. A significant number of senior al-Qaida leaders have also been killed in U.S. drone attacks in the country.
Many analysts believe the biggest threat now comes from al-Qaida franchises in places like Yemen and Somalia.
Mahsud reported from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.