The hunt for al Qaeda continues in Pakistan. Less than two weeks after the capture of senior al Qaeda operative Abu Farraj al-Libbi, yet another operative has been taken down in Pakistan (hat tip to Justin C.):
Haitham al-Yemeni, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked for some time in the hope that he would help lead the United States to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials said. But with the recent capture in northwest Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, thought to be al Qaeda’s No. 3 man, officials worried al-Yemeni would soon go into hiding, and decided to take action. Al-Yemeni was in line to replace al-Libbi, intelligence analysts said.
There are two important aspects to the demise of Haitham al-Yemeni: 1) he was killed by fire from a Predator drone in Pakistan; 2) he was under surveillance for an extended period of time before it was decided to pull the trigger.
The use of an American Predator drone in Pakistani airspace indicates either the tacit approval of the Pakistani government for American forces to hunt al Qaeda on Pakistani soil, contrary to public statements denying a US presence; or the US disregarded any agreement with the Pakistanis to engage al Qaeda on their soil. As Pakistani cooperation is crucial in the hunt for al Qaeda in the region, the former premise is likely.
The long-term surveillance of al-Yemeni is even more intriguing for several reasons. Any observation of al-Yemeni would probably be conducted by or in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence (ISI – Inter-Services Intelligence). Human intelligence would be required to keep such close tabs on him as indicated by this article, and the ISI would have to be involved at some level. That fact that he could be watched for a long period of time without the ISI leaking this information to al Qaeda or their sympathizers suggests the ISI is not as porous as is believed to be the case. Perhaps Musharraf has exercised some measure of control of the “state within a state”. The capture of al-Libbi by Pakistani agents supports this.
If al-Yemeni was being tracked as closely as reported, his contacts, safehouses, communications and operations have been meticulously detailed, providing further actionable intelligence to be used against the network. Expect further arrests of al Qaeda in Pakistan down the line, and if not, perhaps some Hellfire.