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Top Al Qaeda figures reported killed

The leader of a group of Arab fighters and an explosives expert died in an airstrike in Afghanistan, NATO says. Pakistani sources say another commander may have been killed in a missile strike.

September 30, 2010|By Laura King and Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and — An airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a senior Al Qaeda commander who had helped smuggle Arab fighters into the country and an explosives expert who worked with him, the NATO force reported Wednesday.

Separately, security sources in Pakistan reported that an even higher-ranking Al Qaeda figure may have been killed in a weekend missile strike.

Taken together, the strikes underscored the fact that not all insurgents fighting Western troops in Afghanistan belong to the Taliban. Loose alliances exist among many militant groups, including Al Qaeda, which draws foot soldiers from the Middle East and Central Asia, and the Haqqani network, a virulent insurgent faction based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the bombing of a compound in Kunar province, close to the border with Pakistan, killed Abdallah Umar Qurayshi, who had led Al Qaeda-affiliated Arab fighters operating in two eastern provinces, and Abu Atta Kuwaiti, the explosives expert.

The airstrike, in the Korengal Valley, occurred Saturday, but it took until Tuesday to ascertain that Qurayshi was among the dead, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force said. Officials said the compound was the scene of a meeting by high-level insurgent commanders, but it was not yet clear whether any other senior figures were among the dead.

The strike killed several others thought to be Arab fighters, the NATO force said.

Western troops, nearly all of them American, pulled out of the remote, rugged Korengal about six months ago after suffering heavy losses over several years. Fighters led by Qurayshi had staged attacks on Western forces in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, where insurgents have sometimes targeted isolated U.S. outposts with devastating results.

In Pakistan, authorities were looking into whether a senior Al Qaeda commander had been killed in a suspected CIA drone missile strike over the weekend.

Pakistani security sources said they had credible reports that Sheik Fateh Masri was killed Saturday near the village of Doga Macha Madakhel in North Waziristan, which had long served as a haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The sources said they were still trying to confirm that Masri was killed. His death would mark another significant victory in Washington's campaign of drone attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan's largely ungoverned tribal areas.

Masri was believed to have replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, described as the group's No. 3 commander. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May.

Pakistani intelligence sources said Masri was in a car when the missile struck. Three other suspected militants in the vehicle also died.

This month, the U.S. has carried out 21 drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions, the highest monthly total in Washington's drone campaign. Most of this month's strikes have focused on suspected Haqqani network strongholds and compounds in North Waziristan.

laura.king@latimes.com

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

King reported from Kandahar and Rodriguez from Islamabad. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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