At least one top Al Qaeda plotter is presumed to be dead from an apparent drone attack in Waziristan in western Pakistan, according to US news reports that quoted US officials.
Saleh al-Somali, said to have plotted attacks for the international terrorist network Al Qaeda, was presumed killed by a pilotless aircraft operated by the CIA, unnamed officials told The New York Times and other US media.
A second possible victim, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was also killed, according to "unconfirmed" reports mentioned by the Washington-based IntelCenter in an e-mail to the German Press Agency dpa. IntelCenter also mentioned al-Somali as a second victim, and said the UAV attack had taken place near Miranshah in Waziristan.
Al-Somali apparently took orders from Al Qaeda's top leaders and worked with Western recruits when they arrived in the tribal areas of western Pakistan where the terrorist group has sought refuge, an official told Bloomberg news service.
Al-Somali was also said to be an Al Qaeda link to al-Shabaab, a Somali-based militant group, and a major operational planner.
The drone reportedly fired two missiles into an Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary on Tuesday, ABC news reported.
"There are strong indications that senior Al Qaeda operations planner Saleh al-Somali has died," a senior US official told ABC News.
US officials did not confirm that a second operative, al-Libi, had been killed. But Pakistani media reported his death.
Al-libi was identified in October as a senior Al Qaeda leader who issued a video urging Muslims to launch a holy war against Chinese "invaders" in response to the "massacre" of Uighurs in western China. He is sometimes identified as the Al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.
Muslims with historical and linguistic ties to the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, Uighurs live in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, which Islamists call East Turkistan.
The New York Times reported that rumours of al-Libi's death had spread through jihadi internet forums.
North Waziristan is described as a haven for Taliban fighters and their Al Qaeda sponsors, who use the rugged territory to attack the Western forces fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan.
The United States rarely acknowledges such drone strikes, but only its military and the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan are known to operate armed reconnaissance aircraft.
Although Islamabad opposes the deployment of US drones inside Pakistani territory, these pilotless planes have killed several senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures. Unofficially, Pakistan intelligence officials have also been supplying the drone operators with information, The Times reported.