Drone strike kills al-Qaida planner
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WASHINGTON -- A missile fired this week by a CIA drone over Pakistan's tribal regions killed a top operations planner for al-Qaida, U.S. counterterrorism officials said yesterday.
A U.S. intelligence official said there were "strong indications" that a drone strike this week killed Saleh al-Somali, a member of al-Qaida's inner circle, who was taking refuge in the mountainous tribal belt in western Pakistan. The report came amid a swirl of conflicting information about recent CIA strikes in Pakistan, which have grown so frequent that several may occur in the same day.
Pakistani officials said a drone strike this week killed another top al-Qaida operative, Abu Yahya al-Libi, but U.S. officials disputed that claim. Mr. Libi has emerged as one of the terror network's rising figures by posting dozens of radical videos on militants' Web sites, and the rumors of his death spread through jihadi Internet forums.
The Obama administration in recent weeks has approved a CIA plan to expand clandestine operations inside Pakistan, including the number of drone aircraft in the country and flying them over a wider territory. The plan is awaiting approval by Pakistan's government.
Though Pakistan has secretly shared intelligence with the United States for the drone strikes and has asked the United States to share the technology with it, the government publicly condemns the attacks.
If Mr. Somali were indeed killed, it would be a significant blow, a U.S. official said. Little is known about him, but one U.S. official said he was probably responsible for plotting attacks against the West. The official said Mr. Somali was the primary link between al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and the network's allies in East Africa, including the Somali militant group Al Shabaab.
U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information about the CIA drone program is classified.
First Published December 12, 2009 12:00 am