Al Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan killed in New Year's strike
The US killed al Qaeda's chief of operations in the New Year's Day missile strike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan, according to a report.
The Jan. 1 attack in the town of Karikot in South Waziristan killed Osama al Kini and his senior aide Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, intelligence officials told The Washington Post. Two other unnamed operatives were also killed in the airstrike.
Osama al Kini is an alias for Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam, a Kenyan national and a senior al Qaeda commander who was wanted for his role as a planner of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The twin bombings killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others. The Rewards for Justice Web site posted a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The US also had offered $5 million for information leading to the capture of Swedan, who also was involved in the 1998 embassy bombings. Al Kini and Swedan, along with senior al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Saif al Adel, were indicted in a US federal court on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attacks on a US facility.
Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan.
After the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, al Kini served as al Qaeda's leader in the restive Afghan province of Zabul. He "later shifted between Afghanistan, Pakistan and East Africa, planning suicide missions, training operatives and raising money," The Washington Post reported, and was appointed as al Qaeda's operational commander in Pakistan in 2007.
He is thought to have been behind more than seven suicide attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto on her return to Pakistan in October 2007 and the September 2008 bombing at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. The Marriott suicide attack killed more than 50 Pakistanis and foreigners, wounded more than 270, and gutted the popular hotel.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Qari Mohammad Zafar, a leader of the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, are also thought to have been behind the Marriott attack.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Pakistani terror groups have used the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi to execute operations inside Pakistan for years, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in September 2008. "Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, and other Pakistani terror groups merged with al Qaeda years ago," the official said.
US strikes in Pakistan aimed at al Qaeda's external operations network
The Jan. 1 airstrike was followed up by a second strike in South Waziristan on the very next day. Four Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are thought to have been killed, but their identities are currently unknown. Both strikes took place in the tribal areas run by Mullah Nazir, who has sheltered senior al Qaeda leaders.
There were 36 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan during 2008, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-nine of these attacks took place after Aug. 31. There were only 10 recorded strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined.
The US campaign in Pakistan is aimed at disrupting al Qaeda's ability to attack the West. US intelligence believes the next attack launched against the West will originate from Pakistan's tribal areas, where al Qaeda operates 157 known training camps. Al Qaeda has been training terrorists holding Western passports to conduct attacks, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
The US strikes inside Pakistan's tribal areas killed five senior al Qaeda leaders during 2008. 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 weapons of mass destruction 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 in October.