August 28, 2011 5:26 pm

Drone kills al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, US says

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Al-Qaeda’s recently appointed deputy leader has been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, US officials said, cutting down yet another senior figure in an already seriously weakened terror organisation.

The Libyan-born Atiyah Abd al-Rahman became the deputy leader of the terrorist group when it was restructured and Ayman al-Zawahiri appointed its new boss following Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of US special forces in Pakistan in May.

A senior administration official said Rahman was killed in a strike by an unmanned drone on August 22 targeting a location in Pakistan’s north-western Waziristan region.

“Atiyah’s death is a tremendous loss for al-Qaeda, because [Zawahiri] was relying heavily on him to help guide and run the organisation, especially since bin Laden’s death,” the official said.

“The trove of materials from bin Laden’s compound showed clearly that Atiyah was deeply involved in directing al-Qaeda’s operations even before the [May] raid. He had multiple responsibilities in the organisation and will be very difficult to replace.”

The intelligence seized in Abbottabad showed that Rahman had remained in close touch with bin Laden while he was alive and had helped publicise the then leader’s public statements and manifestos smuggled out of his compound.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials told the Financial Times that although they could not independently verify what the US had said, they added that it was a significant development. “If indeed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman is dead, the US will feel that a big target has been taken out. No doubt, this is a victory for the US,” said one intelligence official who spoke from Islamabad.

The second official who spoke from the northern city of Peshawar said: “Successfully targeting the deputy leader of al-Qaeda is a big catch for the Americans.”

But he added that Atiyah’s profile within al-Qaeda was nowhere near that of Ayman al-Zawahiri during his tenure as deputy leader before taking charge of the terrorist group.

“I think it is an exaggeration to say that this death is anywhere even remotely as significant as that of Osama bin Laden,” he said. “Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was still a relatively unknown figure and was settling in. I am sure if he is dead, al-Qaeda will simply appoint someone else to take over from him.”

Relations between the US and Pakistan have been under strain since bin Laden’s death. The Obama administration’s decision to target him without giving a prior warning to Pakistan, prompted angry reaction from the country’s civil and military leaders who claimed that Pakistan’s sovereignty had been violated by the US.

Since the bin Laden attack, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief of staff, has ordered more than 120 US military trainers to leave Pakistan, while intelligence-sharing co-operation between the two countries has been scaled down.

The Obama administration has stepped up drone attacks inside Pakistan, conducting vastly more exercises than were undertaken under President George W. Bush, and routinely conducts them without giving notice to Islamabad.

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