Yesterday evening I reported that we might have gotten Ayman Al Zawahiri in a morning missile strike in Pakistan due to a snippet of information from The Nation. The story named the house hit, the owner, and detailed that it had an adjacent mosque/madrassah. The Nation’s story also mentioned foreign fighters including “an egyptian fugitive.”
Besides the note in the Nation, I’ve not yet found secondary confirmation. B. Raman, a noted analyst of Terrorism in Pakistan notes this:
The strike of February 28 was apparently as precise as that of January 29, 2008, and would have been possible only with human intelligence (HUMINT) and not technical intelligence (TECHINT).A significant sequel to the January 29 strike was there were no major protest demonstrations against the US by the villagers in the targeted area. This was because the strike and the HUMINT on which it was based were so accurate that there were no collateral civilian casualties. The lack of major demonstrations showed that the villagers do not mind precisely targeted attacks on jihadi terrorists provided the attacks kill only known terrorists and not innocent civilians.
What makes this frustrating is that we might not know for weeks or months if it truly was Ayman Al Zawahiri. The bodies were undoubtably burnt and in fragments, and Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters immediately surrounded the location and buried the bodies in unknown location.
There are also serveral Egyptian Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan, not just Al Zawahiri. As one example, “Sheikh Essa,” one of the proponents of Takfirism in Pakistan, operates in North Waziristan. He has followers such as Saddiq Noor, who’s responsible for several bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I’ll be searching the rest of the day for secondary confirmation, as well as other news on Zawahiri, or whomever was hit in the strike. If you run across anything please stop by with a comment.
From The Long War Journal where Bill Roggio lists some of the notable Egyptian AQ operating in the area:
As identities of those killed in the latest strike in South Waziristan is still being sorted out, the nationality of some of those killed is known. Anywhere from eight to 13 al Qaeda and Taliban were reported killed in the strike. Dawn reported four Arabs, two Turkmen, and two Pakistanis from Punjab province were killed. Local Taliban cordoned the area and immediately buried the bodies, which were said to have been badly burned and mutilated.
The presence of Arab al Qaeda operatives in Azam Warzak has led to speculation that a senior al Qaeda figure may have been killed. “An al Qaeda fugitive from Egypt” was reported to have been among those killed, The Nation reported. This has raised the hopes that Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian-borne second in command of al Qaeda was among present during the strike.
But several senior Egyptian members of al Qaeda are known to operate in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These include Abu Khabab al Masri, Abu Ubaidah al Masri, Abdul Rahman al Masri al Maghribi, and Sheikh Essa. Abu Khabab, Abu Ubaidah, and Maghribi were believed to have been killed in the January 2006 Damadola airstrike but the reports were false.
Also note that The Jawa Report has been speculating on information from sources that Adam Gadahn might have also been killed (per this link, potentially in the strike that got Al Libi.) See this note in B. Raman’s Opinion column which seems to corroborate the the speculation:
A missile suspected to have been fired by an unmanned US aircraft early on the morning of January 29, 2008, had destroyed a house, owned by Madad Khan, a local leader of the Taliban at a village called Khushali Torikhel, 12 kilometres south of Mir Ali town, in North Waziristan, where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Group, another Uzbek jihadi organisation, are based. While Madad Khan reportedly survived the attack, his 10 guests–all believed to be Uzbeks and Arabs–were killed. Two wives of Madad Khan and three of their children were also killed.
While the Pakistani authorities did not confirm the identities of those killed, local tribals suspected that one of those killed must have been Abu Laith al-Libi, a Libyan national and an important Al Qaeda leader, whose martyrdom, meaning death while waging jihad, was announced by a web site (ekhlas.org) associated with Al Qaeda, on January 31, 2008. His so-called martyrdom has since been confirmed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to bin Laden, in an audio message disseminated on February 27, 2008.
The nine-minute, 59-second message titled “An Elegy to the Martyred Commander Abu Laith al-Libi,” was issued by as-Sahab, the group’s PSYWAR branch. It described al-Libi as a “knight” of Al Qaeda’s holy war. He was “a mountain of Jihad and a lion.” It added: “You Americans and you the agents of the Americans: (al-Libi and others) are the pioneers of the march and the good omen of a new dawn. Every time a martyr falls, another martyr grabs the banner from him, and every time a chief goes down in blood, another chief completes the march after him.”
Immediately after the missile strike, there was speculation in the area targeted by the US that Adam Gadhan, the American convert to Islam, who headed As-Sahab, was also with Abu Laith at the time of the attack and was also killed, but this has not been confirmed so far.
Graphic From The Daily Times, Pakistan
Update: Asia Times reports that the missile strike was performed by a drone that took off from a Peshawar airfield. This muddies whether or not it’s a US strike, as Pakistan military has reported several times that they have drone capability.
The madrassa hit on Thursday was, according to ATol contacts, used several weeks ago by Baitullah Mehsud – accused of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December – and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander. It is also said to have been used by Tahir Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Such madrassas rarely feature on the radars of US intelligence as they are only used for short meetings, stays or transfers. They are never used for training purposes or for prolonged stays or as hideouts.
The Azam Warsak madrassa was also used for launching guerrilla operations in Paktika province across the border, hence it was stocked with missiles and rockets. It is believed that a fresh group of militants had gathered at the madrassa on Wednesday for such an attack.
Asia Times has contacts within Al Qaeda, and in the past has printed disclaimers and claims from them, so note this at the end of the article:
A top al-Qaeda member of Pakistani origin summed it up in commenting to ATol on condition of anonymity, “We were eyeing developments in Islamabad after the elections [last week] but it seems that nothing is going to change and our new strategy will surface like broad daylight in the coming few days.”
UPDATE II: Wapo story, note that a day and a half later that reports are now bringing up “civilian casualties”… zero were initially reported and there are typically demonstrations, shutterdowns, or riots after that occurs. None reported in the wake of this strike.
France 4 Reminds us that Zawahiri has missed a deadline for promised answers to Jihadi forum questions.
Local Tribal Leaders, including the owner of the house are demanding to know who carried out the raid. There are multiple accountings, including:
Predator Drone US
Predator Drone Pakistan (unsubstantiated reports of drone taking off from Peshawar)
Black Helicopter op (Everyone keeps forgetting this one, so I will throw it in for fun)
Explosives and Missiles stored in the house going off
Missile fired from Afghanistan (ISAF/US/NATO)
Missile fired from Afghanistan (Other Taliban or Al Qaeda forces, this would not be the first time that’s happened either.)
US Missile fired from Gulf
Any of the above are possible, but most likely is a predator drone coupled with Humint, leading to speculation that AQ’s heavily infiltrated. (There is that Fifty Million dollar reward out there going begging after all.)