Reporting from Washington — The U.S. has confirmed that a key Al Qaeda planner and trainer was killed in a drone strike in the tribal areas of Pakistan in June, a U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.
Ilyas Kashmiri led a militant group in Pakistan and in recent years had been brought into the leadership of Al Qaeda, running a training camp and planning attacks against targets in India and Europe, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
News reports had indicated that Kashmiri was killed in a Predator strike in South Waziristan on June 3, but the U.S. government was not certain until recently that Kashmiri was among the dead. Over the last month, U.S. intelligence agencies analyzed human intelligence and electronic surveillance and are now confident Kashmiri was killed in the strike.
Kashmiri is the second high-ranking Al Qaeda operative confirmed dead since a team of NAVY SEALs killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May.
The other, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a senior Al Qaeda operative in East Africa, was gunned down June 7 by Somali government security forces at a checkpoint outside Mogadishu, the capital. Mohammed was wanted by the U.S. for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The death of two experienced operations leaders weeks after Al Qaeda lost its founder will be disruptive for the terrorist network, said Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp. think tank who is writing a book about Al Qaeda.
"This is a delicate moment for Al Qaeda," said Jones.
Born in the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir in 1964, Kashmiri lost an eye fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and later joined anti-Indian militants based in Pakistan, rising to lead his own group, called Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami.
Kashmiri was known for planning complex ground assaults on targets using small teams of well-trained attackers. He had been linked to the May assault on the Mehran naval base in Karachi, Pakistan, that killed 10 security personnel and the 2008 assault on the Indian city of Mumbai that left about 170 people dead.
In 2010, prosecutors in U.S. federal court in Illinois charged Kashmiri for his involvement in an alleged conspiracy to murder members of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. A retired officer in the Pakistani military also was charged in the conspiracy.