A top al-Qaeda commander and possible replacement for Osama bin Laden was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border, a fax from the militant group he heads and a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday.
Ilyas Kashmiri's apparent death is another blow to al-Qaeda just over a month after bin Laden was killed by American commandos in a northwest Pakistani army town. Described by US officials as al-Qaeda's military operations chief in Pakistan, the 47-year-old Pakistani was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused of a string of bloody attacks in South Asia, including the 2008 Mumbai massacre, as well as aiding plots in the West.
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His death was not confirmed publicly by the United States or Pakistani officials. Verifying who has been killed in the drone strikes is difficult. Initial reports have turned out to be wrong in the past, including one in September 2009 that said Kashmiri had been killed. Sometimes they are never formally denied or confirmed by authorities here or in the United States.
But a fax from the militant group he was heading - Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami's feared "313 Brigade" - confirmed Kashmiri was "martyred" in the strike at 11:15 pm Friday in South Waziristan tribal region. It was sent to journalists in Peshawar.
Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region (Archive photo: AP)
"God willing, America, which is the 'pharaoh' of this, will soon see a revenge attack, and our real target is America," it said. The statement was handwritten written on a white page bearing name of the group, which has not previously communicated with the media.
The Pakistani official also said Kashmiri was among nine militants killed in the strike. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his agency's policy. On Friday night, officials said several missiles hit a compound. The official Saturday said the men were meeting in an apple orchard near the house when the missiles hit.
Kashmiri's name was on a list of militants that the United States and Pakistan recently agreed to jointly target, officials have said. The successful strike could help repair ties between the two countries that were badly damaged by the unilateral American raid, especially if Islamabad helped provide intelligence leading up to the attack.
Said to be blind in one eye and missing a finger, Kashmiri was one of the country's most accomplished - and vicious - militants. He was so close to al-Qaeda's central command that he had been mentioned as a contender for replacing bin Laden, though many analysts thought the fact that he was not an Arab meant he was unlikely to get the post.
Pakistani leaders were not immediately available for comment on Friday's attack. Kashmiri was accused of killing many Pakistanis, including police and army officers, so their public reaction may be muted.
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