The US targeted a senior al Qaeda leader and brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden during Thursday’s swarm attack in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The US believed Sheikh Saeed al Saudi was scheduled to attend a high-level al Qaeda meeting in the Datta Khel region in North Waziristan, The News reported.
The nature of the strike indicates the US was targeting a high-value target. Up to seven unmanned US Predator and Reaper strike aircraft converged on the target and launched up to 10 missiles. Sixteen al Qaeda and Haqqani network fighters were reported killed in the attack.
Sheikh Saeed al Saudi is married to bin Laden’s sister and serves on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The official also confirmed that al Saudi was the target of the attack. Al Saudi also is involved in al Qaeda’s “financial activities,” the official said.
Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but the US believes it killed Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general officer in al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil. The Taliban have denied that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike.
The Datta Khel region in South Waziristan borders the Jani Khel region in the settled district of Bannu.
Jani Khel has long been a strategic meeting place and safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Jani Khel was identified as the headquarters for al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis back in 2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, has operated in the Jani Khel region. The US has struck al Qaeda safe houses in Jani Khel twice since last year. These strikes are the only two Predator attacks that have occurred outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The town of Jani Khel is a known haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. Senior al Qaeda operative Abdullah Azzam al Saudi was killed in a Predator strike in Jani Khel on Nov. 19, 2008. Azzam served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan’s northwest.
Al Qaeda is known to have deposited its donations received from Europe into the Bayt al Mal, or Bank of Money, in Jani Khel, according to a report at the NEFA Foundation. The Bayt al Mal served as al Qaeda’s treasury.
“The money can only be released on Osama bin Laden’s direction, and when such an order is given, it is Mustafa Abu Yazid who executes it,” the NEFA Foundation report said. Yazid, who is also known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, is the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and also serves as the group’s chief financial operative.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.