Al-Qaida Confirms No. 3 Official Killed

The al-Qaida terrorist network is confirming that its No. 3 official — Mustafa al-Yazid — has been killed. It is perhaps one of the most severe blows to the movement since the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida began after the Sept. 11 attacks. A U.S. official said al-Yazid is thought to have died in a missile strike.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A drone attack in Pakistan's tribal areas apparently has killed the third in command of al-Qaida. The man's name was Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. He's also known as Saeed´┐Żal-Masri. He was considered al-Qaida's chief operating officer and also a man who played a role in the 2001 terror attacks on the United States. This is not the first time he's been reported dead.

And of course it is not the first time that someone who is a number three of al-Qaida has been reported dead. To find out more about what's happened, we're joined by NPR's Julie McCarthy. She's following the story from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Hi, there, Steve.

INSKEEP: There have been many reports this man is dead. What is the evidence, this time, that he really is?

MCCARTHY: Well, first of all we have a Pakistani intelligence source telling us that a U.S. drone missile killed al-Masri in Pakistan's tribal belt some 10 days ago. Now, the tribal area is a stronghold, as you know, for the militants from both sides of the border and is also believed to be a haven for al-Qaida.

Now, al-Masri, himself, is an Egyptian-born militant leader, and American officials believe he was actually commanding al-Qaida's operations in Afghanistan, both its financial matters and its day-to-day planning. And that, of course, would include coordinating with the Taliban in Afghanistan and its allies. And he's described, as you said, as al-Qaida's number three, only behind Osama bin Laden and his deputy, al-Zawahiri.

INSKEEP: Although we have to be frank about this. There are a lot of people who've been described as the number three in al-Qaida over the years, some have been captured, some have been killed, some have turned out perhaps to be not as significant as it seemed at the time. Is it solidly believed, widely believed, that this man who was killed was in fact a very senior figure in al-Qaida's organization?

MCCARTHY: Well, yes it is. And there's a growing circle who believes that, Steve. And what's different this time is that al-Qaida itself has evidently announced al-Masri's death. And they said he was killed, along with members of his family.

Now, SITE Intelligence Group, which monitor statements by militant groups, reports that al-Qaida issued the statement to jihadist websites. And according to those who monitor them, they have translated the statement al-Qaida's made and it basically says his death - al-Masri's death - will only be a severe curse by his life upon the infidels.

You know, just after the suicide bombing against the CIA base in Afghanistan in December, where seven CIA agents were killed, al-Masri issued a statement himself praising the work of that bomber. And he said that the suicide bombing was revenge for the killing of a number of top militant leaders in CIA drone attacks. And it would appear now that he is the victim of one of them.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Julie McCarthy. She's in Islamabad, Pakistan and talking with us about this news that appears to be good news from the U.S. perspective. Of course, Pakistan is an ally of the United States. Julie, I'm wondering what kind of reaction there is where you are.

MCCARTHY: Well, there's little reaction yet. You know, it's interested, because the news about people like al-Qaida and leading Taliban figures that make headlines in the United States don't tend to make such a big splash here. But what this does, Steve, is raise all over again this very controversial question of the CIA drone program.

It is a source of huge dispute here in Pakistan. And as you know, a source of growing condemnation among human rights groups themselves, who argue that this sort of pilotless drone attack is tantamount to murder without due process. What it does afford, though, an instance like this afford the Obama administration and its attorneys to say they are effective and it is successful and we are targeting the people who are targeting the United States.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Islamabad, Pakistan. And again, the news here, we have reports that al-Qaida's third in command is believed to have been killed in a drone attack in Pakistan.

This is NPR News.

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