Yesterday I wrote about the claim from Pakistan that the senior al-Qaeda chemical-weapons expert died in an American missile strike in South Waziristan. Given that Abu Khabab al-Masri had been declared dead more than once before, the initial report got received with some understandable skepticism. However, Pakistani officials told CBS today that they have positively identified Midhat Mursi’s body, along with five other “Arabs”:
One of al Qaeda’s top chemical and biological weapons experts was killed in an air strike by a CIA pilotless drone in a remote Pakistani border region, senior Pakistani intelligence officials told CBS NewsTuesday morning.
Intelligence officials investigating the early Monday missile attack confirmed that Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri was one of six men killed and his remains had been positively identified.
“We now have a positive ID on the body. I can confirm to you that Al-Masri has been killed,” a Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News on the condition of anonymity. Earlier reports claimed that the six men killed included three Arabs, while the other three were believed to be Afghans or Pakistanis.
However, the intelligence official who spoke to CBS Tuesday said all six men were Arabs. Those killed also included Sheikh Ibrahim, a mid ranking al Qaeda operative believed to be either Egyptian or Jordanian. The other four victims were described as ordinary foot soldiers. The intelligence official did not provide the full names nor the citizenship of the four lower ranking militants.
CBS reports that the death of Abu Khabab would only have a “minimal” impact on AQ operations, since the group has largely abandoned the notion of chemical and biological attacks. However, Khabab also ran terrorist training camps, among whose graduates were Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, both of whom will spend the rest of their lives in Supermax prisons in the US. His death may not “cripple” either the Taliban or AQ, but it certainly eliminates another member of its leadership and sends a message to the rest of the network about their operational security.
The word on this attack is that it had a great deal of support from Pakistan. The Pakistanis haven’t exactly hidden this from view, either, announcing the strike and the target with more enthusiasm than one might suspect from the current government. Prime Minister Gilani is visiting the US, and made a press appearance at the White House yesterday after news of the strike hit the wires. The Gilani government wants to reassure the US of its continued partnership, and together with recent military activity around Peshawar, may be looking to revert back to a policy once favored by Pervez Musharraf regarding their radical Islamists.