A missile attack from a remotely piloted American aircraft is believed to have killed a senior member of al-Qaeda in South Waziristan on Thursday, a former member of a militant group in the region said in an interview.
The operative, Khalid Habib, an Egyptian who was chief of operations in Pakistan’s tribal region, is described by the CIA as the fourth-ranking person in the Qaeda hierarchy.
The attack, on the village of Taparghai, killed four people, some of them Arabs, according to initial reports on Thursday.
A Pakistani intelligence official declined on Friday to confirm the death of Habib.
An American official involved in the campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas said he could not confirm the report that Habib had died.
It often takes American officials some time to determine the success or failure of attacks by remotely piloted aircraft in the rugged and remote terrain of the tribal areas.
Habib recently moved to Taparghai from Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, which is in an area that the Americans have been attacking with increasing frequency.
Their primary goal is to break the militant network there related to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader closely allied to al-Qaeda, the former member of the militant group said.
Habib had relocated to Taparghai expressly to avoid missile strikes, the former militant said. The area around Taparghai is near Makin, a base of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban.
Habib was in a parked Toyota station wagon, the favoured vehicle of the militants in the tribal area, when he was hit by the missile, the former member of the militant group said.
A resident of the village said in a telephone interview that the man killed in the attack seemed to be “important.” He was known in the village as Zalfay, the resident said. The name means “long hair” in Pashto, the language spoken in the area.
The number of American missile strikes aimed at Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan and South Waziristan has risen sharply in the last six weeks — 11 since early September, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery pounded militant positions in northwest Pakistan, killing 60 fighters and wounding several, the military said on Saturday.