A big score, especially now that Yemen’s falling apart. That country’s branch of Al Qaeda is already one of the most dangerous in the world; if the state breaks down completely, seasoned African operatives like Fazul Mohammed might sense an opportunity and hop across the Gulf of Aden to hook up with AQ’s outfit there. In fact, U.S. counterterrorism has worried for years about Somali refugee camps in Yemen being prime recruiting ground for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Fazul won’t be joining them, however. Both Somali and U.S. officials say that he’s finally, finally, finally dead.

“We have confirmed he was killed by our police at a control checkpoint this week,” Halima Aden, a senior [Somali] national security officer, told Reuters in Mogadishu…

“He had a fake South African passport and of course other documents. After thorough investigation, we confirmed it was him, and then we buried his corpse,” Aden said…

“He was killed on Tuesday midnight in the southern suburbs of Mogadishu at Ex-control police checkpoint. Another Somali armed man was driving him in a four-wheel drive when he accidentally drove up to the checkpoint,” Aden said.

“We had his pictures and so we cross-checked with his face. He had thousands of dollars. He also had a laptop and a modified AK-47,” he said.

The U.S. tried to kill him at least twice before, once in a gunship attack in Somalia in 2007 and again in an airstrike a year later. He was a big fish — the reputed mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings that killed 240 people, allegedly the head of Al Qaeda in east Africa, and a perennial on the FBI’s Most Wanted list — and not a man easily lost to AQ when they’re strapped for experienced leaders. More from Bill Roggio:

Fazul was carrying “a South African passport in the name of Daniel Robinson” and was carrying more than $40,000 in cash, Sky News reported. “The passport, issued April 13, 2009, indicated that its bearer left South Africa for Tanzania on March 19 and was granted a visa there.”…

If Fazul is confirmed killed, he would be the last of the three al Qaeda operatives wanted for the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In September 2009, US Special Operations Forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan during a raid south of Mogadishu. And in early 2007, Abu Tahla al Sudani was killed during fighting with Ethiopian forces.

Fazul, a 21-year veteran of al Qaeda, is considered one of the terror group’s top commanders in eastern Africa. Also, he is one of several non-Somalis to hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. A senior US intelligence official described Fazul as one of al Qaeda’s “most dangerous and most capable leaders.”

“He has been at the top of our list for some time,” the official told The Long War Journal.

He was also allegedly part of the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, in which 18 U.S. troops were killed. Follow that last link for a glimpse of the (graphic) death photo obtained by Roggio; there are more at Yahoo News, if you’re so inclined. Two obvious questions about all this given the circumstances of Fazul’s demise. One: Did anything in the Bin Laden intel treasure trove help point us to his location? The CIA has been understandably shy about revealing details of what’s in there, but the AP got a tantalizing glimpse the other day:

The U.S. is tracking possible new terror targets and stepping up surveillance of operatives previously considered minor al-Qaida figures after digging through the mountain of correspondence seized from Osama bin Laden’s hideout, officials say. The trove of material is filling in blanks on how al-Qaida operatives work, think and fit in the organization, they say…

Al-Qaida operatives worldwide are feeling the heat, with at least two of them altering their travel plans in recent weeks in apparent alarm that they might become the targets of another U.S. raid, one official said…

A law enforcement official briefed on the process said investigators have been analyzing raw digital data found on multiple hard drives and flash drives, and that some of it consists of sequences of numbers.

No proof there that Osama led us to him, but it’s an awfully curious coincidence that after we spent years trying to kill both Fazul and Ilyas Kashmiri, each of them has suddenly turned up dead just five weeks after the raid in Abbottabad. Which leads to the second question: Doesn’t it seem strange that an old-pro terrorist like Fazul would end up dead … at a police checkpoint? He’d been working for Al Qaeda for more than 20 years and had dodged everything the U.S. military and counterterror agents had thrown at him for more than a decade. One would think he’d have no problem avoiding a checkpoint on his own home turf conducted by Somalia’s bare-bones police force. And yet, inexplicably, his driver apparently rolled up to one and Fazul caught a few bullets in the chest. Verrrrry curious.