Al-Qaida announces deaths of 4 commanders including Abu Khabab al-Masri

Associated Press 

CAIRO, Egypt — Al-Qaida confirmed in a Web statement Sunday the death of a senior commander known as a top explosives and poisons expert, who is believed to have been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan last week.

The statement said Abu Khabab al-Masri and three other commanders were killed. It did not give details on when or how they were killed, but Pakistani authorities have said they believe al-Masri died in an American airstrike last Monday on a compound near the Afghan border.

Pakistani officials have said six people were killed in that strike, in the country's lawless South Waziristan tribal region.

Al-Masri, an Egyptian militant whose real name is Midhat Mursi, had a $5 million bounty on his head from the United States. He is accused of training terrorists to use poisons and explosives, and is believed to have trained suicide bombers who killed 17 American sailors on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

He is also believed to have helped run al-Qaida's Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan, until the camp was abandoned amid the 2001 U.S. invasion of the country. There he is thought to have conducted experiments in chemical and biological weapons, testing materials on dogs.

The al-Qaida statement called al-Masri and the other three slain commanders "a group of heroes" and warned of vengeance for their deaths.

"We tell the enemies of God that God has saved those who will be even more painful for you," it said. "As Abu Khabab has gone, he left behind, with God's grace, a generation of faithful students who will make you suffer the worst torture and avenge him and his brothers."

The statement, whose authenticity could not be independently confirmed, was dated July 30 and signed by al-Qaida's top Afghan leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed. It was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida usually issues official statements and videos of its leaders.

The statement made no mention of an airstrike killing the four commanders, and did not say how or when they died.

Abu Khabab al-Masri is a pseudonym, meaning "father of the trotting horse, the Egyptian."

The other three slain leaders also seemed to be Egyptians, since their pseudonyms included the name "al-Masri" — but little is known about them. The statement identified them as Abu Mohammed Ibrahim bin Abi Farag al-Masri, Abdul-Wahab al-Masri and Abu Islam al-Masri.

It gave no details about them, beyond calling Abu Mohammed "the holy warrior sheik and tutor." The statement said some of their children were killed with them but gave no further details.

The U.S. military, wary of embarrassing its Pakistani allies, has not officially confirmed it carried out the July 28 strike. Two Pakistani intelligence officials and at least one pro-Taliban militant said they believed al-Masri had died in the attack, and an American official in Washington expressed cautious optimism al-Masri was among the dead.

CBS News reported Friday that al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, was killed or critically injured in the strike. CBS said it had obtained a copy of an intercepted letter dated July 29 from unnamed sources in Pakistan in which a Taliban leader urgently requested a doctor to treat Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant.

A Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Umar, denied the report. Pakistan army and intelligence officials said they had no information that al-Zawahri was hit.

Both bin Laden and al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding in the rugged and lawless tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In January, al-Masri was initially reported to have been killed in a similar airstrike said to have been targeting al-Zawahri, but Pakistani officials quickly backed off claims al-Masri was killed.

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