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Al Qaeda expert 'believed killed in Pakistan'

Al Qaeda's senior leader and chemical weapon expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, is believed to have died in a US missile strike.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2008 10:55 IST

Al Qaeda's senior leader and chemical weapon expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, is believed to have died in a US missile strike on Monday in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, officials said.

Umar, an Egyptian militant who is also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, and his Pakistani wife were killed in a predawn multiple missile attacks that targeted a house in a village near the Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan district bordering Afghanistan.

"They were the real target of the missile strike and the local sources are confirming that the couple was among the seven killed," a security official in the area said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his job.

According to the official, two of the other dead were also believed to be foreign militants of Arab origin while the rest were local youths.

A spokesman of Pakistani Army said he had no knowledge of the death of an Al Qaeda leader in the strike.

"We are investigating the incident and would be able to say anything only after the investigations are completed," said Major General Athar Abbas.

Umar, around 55, had a $5 million bounty on his head. He worked at a chemical weapon laboratory set up by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the US-led forces ousted Taliban from power.

His death was incorrectly reported in 2006 in a missile attack in tribal district of Bajaur.

While it was not clear whether the Monday's missile strikes were carried out from ground or aerial platforms, residents said the buzzing sound of US-operated pilotless Predator aircraft was heard before the explosions.

"The US spy planes have been circling over the area soon after midnight," Gul Hassan, a local resident, said.

The attack came as Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was set to meet President George W. Bush in Washington. The discussions are expected to focus on the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan and Islamabad's role as a frontline ally.

Pakistan's tribal areas are believed to be sanctuaries for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters staging cross-border attacks on international forces and Afghan government troops.

Islamabad is under growing pressure from the US and other coalition partners to prevent the infiltration, which has reportedly increased since the new Pakistani government launched peace talks with militants earlier this year.

The US has so far refrained from conducting ground operations against militants inside the tribal region, but launched several aerial attacks.

Meanwhile, the acting commander of the US Central Command, Martin E. Dempsey, met Monday with Pakistan's military top brass in the garrison town of Rawalpindi to discuss the security situation in the region, especially the border areas.

In the meeting, the chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Tariq Majid opposed the engagement of targets by coalition and Afghan forces in the tribal region.

"Our sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, any violation in this regard could be detrimental to bilateral relations," a statement issued by the military's public relations directorate cited General Majid as saying.