Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s second most powerful leader after Osama Bin Laden, might be critically wounded and possibly dead, according to a media report.
The CBS News reported that it had obtained from sources in Pakistan a copy of an intercepted letter which urgently requests a doctor to treat al-Zawahiri. The Al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
However a Pakistani Taliban spokesman denied the report. “Zawahri has been killed by them several times. But once again this claim is wrong. This is baseless,” Maulvi Omar told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The letter, reportedly written by Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, refers to al-Zawahiri by name and states that he is in “severe pain” and his “injuries are infected”. CBS News said the Taliban logo and Mehsud’s seal on the letter had been “confirmed by experts as legitimate”.
The letter is dated July 29, a day after a US missile strike killed Al Qaeda weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri and five other Arabs in South Waziristan tribal region. A counter-intelligence expert and other American officials told the channel that the US is looking into reports that Zawahiri is dead.
However, Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told TV news channels there was “no evidence or reliable information” about al-Zawahari’s death.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, told CNN that his country was “unable to confirm or deny” the report. “We are looking into the reports and will comment only after we have solid evidence either way,” he said.
A senior military official based in northwestern Pakistan said he was checking the CBS report that Zawahiri, an Egyptian militant, was also hit. “We have seen the media report that al-Zawahiri was killed or wounded in the July 28 strike. We are investigating the authenticity of the report,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The official said authorities were also trying to obtain the letter, which CBS said was written by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. An intelligence official based in South Waziristan said they had heard rumours about Zawahiri being targetted a few days ago “and we checked it but we have not been able to confirm it.”
A US-based terrorism monitoring group, IntelCenter, said on Friday that it “is aware of and has been monitoring for a few days now reports that Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri has been killed or severely injured in the strike.” It said that if Zawahiri was dead, Al Qaeda would be expected to release the news “with a fair amount of speed either in a video and/or written statement.”
A $25 million reward has been offered for the 57-year-old al-Zawahiri.
He narrowly escaped death in an attack in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in 2001 that left his wife and children dead.
Al-Qaeda reported on Islamist websites this week that a US air strike killed Abu Abdallah al-Shami, a leader who escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005.