Today’s early morning airstrike by unmanned US Predator aircraft in Pakistan’s Taliban-run North Waziristan tribal agency is said to have killed senior al Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf and another al Qaeda leader, according to unconfirmed reports from Pakistan.
Today’s airstrike targeted a Taliban compound in the Ali Khel region just outside of Miramshah, the main town in the tribal agency. Five people have been reported killed, including three “foreigners” – a term reserved for al Qaeda – and six more were wounded. An Egyptian named Abu Zubair al Masri was also reported killed in the airstrike.
US intelligence has yet to confirm the death of Rauf or Zubair.
The US has stepped up its cross-border attacks in Pakistan this year. There have been 31 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan this year, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-four of these attacks took place since Aug. 31. There were only 10 strikes during 2006 and 2007 combined.
The strikes are targeted at al Qaeda’s network that facilitates attack on the West as intelligence fears the next attack will originate from Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Rauf, along with senior al Qaeda leader Matiur Rehman, were the architects of the failed 2006 London airline plot. Al Qaeda intended to destroy a dozen aircraft en route to the United States from London. Rehman is a senior al Qaeda leader who is known to manage the “jihadi rolodex,” the list of the tens of thousands of operatives who passed through terror training camps.
Rauf was captured by Pakistani security forces in August 2006 escaped from Pakistani custody under dubious circumstances on Dec. 15, 2007. Police escorts claim Rauf broke free of his handcuffs as he was visiting a mosque while being transported from a court appearance in Islamabad to a jail in Rawalpindi. Rauf’s uncle convinced police to transport him in a van and drove it himself. Several police were charged with being complicit in Rauf’s escape.
Britain was attempting to extradite Rauf at the time of his escape. A senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Rauf immediately fled to South Waziristan after his escape.
Rauf’s family is well immersed in Pakistan’s radical jihadi community. He is the relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Muhammad, a terror outfit that operates in Indian Kashmir. Rauf’s sister-in-law is married to Azhar’s brother. Jaish-e-Muhammad has merged with al Qaeda and moved a large number of its fighters into Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Rauf’s father-in-law and sister-in-law run the radical Darul Uloom Madina, one of Pakistan’s largest Islamic seminaries in Bahawalpur. More than 2,000 students attend the Darul Uloom Madina.
His father founded Crescent Relief, a Muslim charity that collected funds for earthquake relief and is currently under investigation for funneling money to fund the London plot.
Tayib Rauf, Rashid’s brother, was arrested in Britain for his involvement with the London airline plot along with 22 other suspects. The British government froze Tayib and 18 other suspect’s bank accounts. Most of the suspects arrested in Britain were British nationals of Pakistani origin.
Targeting al Qaeda’s external network
The US strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas have killed five senior al Qaeda leaders this year. All of the leaders were involved in supporting al Qaeda’s external operations directed at the West.
Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January. Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, was killed in a strike in Bajaur in March. Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s WMD chief, and several senior members of his staff were killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July. Khalid Habib, the leader of al Qaeda’s paramilitary forces in the tribal areas, was killed in North Waziristan in October. Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and member of al Qaeda’s top council, was also killed in North Waziristan this October.
Two other senior al Qaeda leaders are rumored to have been killed, but their deaths have not been confirmed.
Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was targeted in a Nov. 7 strike in South Waziristan that wounded Taliban leader Mullah Nazir. Abdullah Azzam al Saudi, an al Qaeda leader involved with external strikes and the recruitment and training of operative, is thought to have been killed in the Nov. 19 strike in Bannu, the first recorded US attack outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas.