Pakistani and US intelligence are attempting to sort out the names of the al Qaeda and Taliban operatives killed in yesterday’s airstrike in Azam Warzak, South Waziristan. Initial reports indicated Arabs and fighters from Central Asia were killed in the operation. One report indicates an “al Qaeda fugitive from Egypt” was among those killed, sparking rumors that Ayman al Zawahiri was the target of the strike.
South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, who is often characterized as a “pro-government” Taliban leader, appears to be the center of the storm. “Sources said that the militants belonged to the Abu Hamza group whose leader was said to be a follower of local militant commander Maulvi Nazir,” Dawn reported. The attack occurred at the home of Shero Wazir, a follower of Nazir “who had rented it out to an Arab.”
“A large number of Arabs and other foreigners had been living and doing business in the area for years with local tribal names,” sources told Dawn. Nazir denied foreign al Qaeda were present in his territory, and instead claimed Afghans were occupying the home.
But Nazir has a long history of backing Arab al Qaeda members. He attacked Uzbeks in his tribal areas after he accused them of assassinating Arab al Qaeda operatives Saiful Asad and Sheikh Asadullah, a Saudi. Asadullah was one of Nazir’s lieutenants and served as al Qaeda’s financiers in the region. Asadullah replaced Ahmad Saeed Abdur Rehman Khadr al Kanadi, an al Qaeda operative who was killed in 2004. Kanadi was “designated by the United Nations as a high-ranking al Qaeda member.”
While the identities of those killed in the latest strike in South Waziristan are 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 those 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, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, 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.
Egyptian al Qaeda known to be operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions:
• Abu Khabab al Masri: Al Qaeda’s Weapons of Mass Destruction expert and master bomb maker. He is also known as Midhat Mursi.
• Abdul Rahman al Masri al Maghribi: A senior al Qaeda military commander who is also believed to be Ayman al Zawahiri’s son-in-law.
• Abu Ubaidah al Masri: A senior al Qaeda operative who served as the former operations chief in Kunar, Afghanistan.He now serves as an al Qaeda operations chief for global strikes.
• Abu Ikhlas al Masri – The current operations chief for Kunar province in Afghanistan. He and took over Kunar province after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted.
• Sheikh Essa: An Egyptian cleric based out of North Waziristan who advocates expanding the Taliban’s jihad in Pakistan. “Local adherents of the takfiri ideology, like Sadiq Noor and Abdul Khaliq, have grown strong and spread the word in North Waziristan,” the Asia Times reported on Jan. 1. “Former members of jihadi outfits such as Jaish-i-Mohammed, Laskhar-i-Taiba and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have gathered in North Waziristan and declared Sheikh Essa their ideologue.”
See Missile strike on al Qaeda meeting in South Waziristan kills 13 for background on the airstrike and past strikes in the tribal regions.