US missiles are believed to have killed an Al-Qaida operations chief and a top Uzbek militant in northwest Pakistan, officials said on Thursday, the latest apparent victories for the covert and controversial American program.
If their deaths are confirmed, Ilyas Kashmiri and Nazimuddin, alias Yahyo, would be two of several militant leaders killed in Pakistan by missiles fired by unmanned US drones. Just last month, a similar strike killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistan's government publicly condemns the strikes, saying they fan anti-Americanism among its citizens and violate its sovereignty. But many observers believe Islamabad secretly endorses the program. Operations chief Kashmiri, a Pakistani national, was believed killed in a Sept. 7 attack on a compound in North Waziristan, said a Pakistani intelligence officer and a senior government official. A strike in the same region on Sept. 14 that destroyed a vehicle is believed to have killed Nazimuddin, the officials said. North Waziristan is part of Pakistan's tribal belt, a lawless region where Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are rumored to be hiding.
The Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the topic. They said the information was based on intercepted communications between militants and from informants in their ranks.
Speaking last week, a US counterterrorism official said Kashmiri was in charge of al-Qaida's military operations in Pakistan and had also been active in recruiting and training operatives to conduct attacks outside of Pakistan.
He also said Kashmiri had been a member of the militant group Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami, which he joined in the early 1990s after fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US official also requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The Pakistani officials said Kashmiri was also accused of playing a role in failed assassination attempts against former President Pervez Musharraf.
Little is know about Nazimuddin, but a man bearing the same name and alias appears on a US Treasury list of individuals most of whom are alleged Islamist terrorists whose assets are blocked. The United States has fired more than 50 missiles from unmanned drones into the tribal regions since last year in a campaign targeting al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.
Among the several top Al-Qaida militants killed in the strikes are Abu Khabab al-Masri, an explosives expert responsible for its chemical and biological weapons efforts, and Usama al-Kini, believed to have planned the attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel. Last month, one of the strikes killed Mehsud.
Separately, Pakistan's military said it had killed 10 insurgents and arrested a militant commander accused of beheading troops in the northwestern Swat Valley, notching up more successes in its offensive there.
Sher Muhammad Qasab was captured this week at an undisclosed location in the valley, army spokesman Col. Akhtar Abbas said. Abbas said Qasab, who had a bounty of 10 million rupees ($121,000) on his head, had beheaded many troops in Swat when the Taliban was in control.
The 10 militants were killed by security forces Thursday as they tried to sneak into the region's main city of Mingora, Abbas said. The four-month-old Swat offensive has been praised by the US, which wants to see Pakistan fighting militants in its rugged northwest who are blamed for plotting and carrying out attacks on US and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Six people were wounded when a bomb planted outside a shop exploded in the northwestern city of Kohat on Thursday, police said. No one claimed responsibility, but Islamist militants are usually blamed for terrorist attacks in the area, police officer Jahangir Khan told The Associated Press.
Kohat is 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of northwest Pakistan's main city Peshawar.