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Militant linked to attack on CIA killed

The Al Qaeda operative was suspected of having a major role in the December suicide bombing at a U.S. base in Afghanistan. He was killed last week in a drone strike in Pakistan, officials say.

March 18, 2010|By David S. Cloud

Reporting from Washington — A senior Al Qaeda operative being hunted in the December bombing of a U.S. base used by the CIA in Afghanistan was among those killed in a missile strike in Pakistan's tribal area, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Hussein Yemeni, an Al Qaeda bomb expert and trainer, is believed to have been among more than a dozen people killed in the strike last week in Miram Shah, the largest town in North Waziristan, the officials said.

Yemeni is thought to have had a major planning role in the Dec. 30 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees and contractors and a Jordanian intelligence officer, a counter-terrorism official said.

U.S. intelligence officials had vowed to track down the perpetrators of the attack and they appeared elated over having confirmed Yemeni's death in the escalating campaign of missile strikes by unmanned CIA Predator aircraft.

The counter-terrorism official described the Miram Shah strike as a "clean, precise action that shows these killers cannot hide even in relatively built-up places."

The exact role Yemeni played in the attack on the base was unclear, but U.S. officials said his specialty was in building bombs and planning suicide operations.

Drone strikes have killed 126 to 211 people in Pakistan this year, according to a website established by the New America Foundation that tracks news reports of the attacks. In 2009, there were 372 to 632 deaths. The range in the numbers killed was because of differing casualty counts in public reports about attacks.

"Drones are putting a lot of pressure on Al Qaeda," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA official now at the Brookings Institution.

Riedel said Yemeni was a key intermediary between Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, a militant Afghan faction that collaborates with Al Qaeda in attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The stepped-up drone campaign began in the last year of the Bush administration, when the U.S. stopped notifying Pakistani officials before the attacks.

The Obama administration has intensified the airstrikes, though U.S. officials refuse to comment publicly on them. Officials who reported Yemeni's death did so anonymously.

Yemeni was among the top two dozen most-wanted Al Qaeda operatives, the counter-terrorism official said. Originally from Yemen, the militant was his late 20s or early 30s.

Riedel said the militant was imprisoned in Yemen between 2005 and 2007 and made his way to Pakistan after his release.

In Pakistan, Yemeni established himself as a conduit for funds, messages and recruits, the counter-terrorism official said.

His death had been rumored for days after reports began appearing on militant websites that he was among those killed in the Miram Shah strike March 8, but it took U.S. intelligence officials several days to confirm.

It was unclear Wednesday whether Yemeni was the primary target of the attack. Officials did not identify the others killed.

Yemeni had established contacts with groups outside Pakistan, including the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is believed responsible for a campaign of attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in recent years.

The attack on the CIA facility was carried out by a Jordanian who blew himself up after being brought into the base in the eastern Afghanistan province of Khowst, where he'd been invited to disclose information about Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri.

In a video released after his death, the suicide attacker said his operation was meant to avenge the death of a Pakistani Taliban leader killed in a suspected CIA strike.

david.cloud@latimes.com

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