US officials believe al Qaeda chief of operations Abu Hafs al Shahri was killed in Pakistan earlier in the week.
According to a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, al Shahri’s death is yet another ‘serious blow’ to al Qaeda’s core group in Pakistan. Al Shahri played a “key operational and administrative role for the group,” the US official added.
Al Shahri’s death would also pose a challenge for Ayman al Zawahiri, long-time al Qaeda number two and believed to be at the helm of the organisation after Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad. On Wednesday, a Pentagon official said he believed al Zawahiri was still in Pakistan, following the release of a video in which Osama bin Laden’s successor blasts the United States.
“We have no information to indicate that he is anywhere else than in Pakistan,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. Speaking to The Express Tribune, the US official said that Abu Hafs al Shahri was a contender to assume al Qaeda’s second in command Atiyah Abd al Rahman’s duties. Shahri “coordinated al Qaeda’s anti-US plots in the region, and worked closely with the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks inside Pakistan.”
The US official did not comment on the circumstances leading to al Shahri’s death, however earlier this week on September 11, the media reported that at least three people killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan. On August 22, another US drone strike in North Waziristan led to the death of al Qaeda second in command Atiyah Abd al Rahman.
Another senior US administration official confirmed al Shahri’s death in Waziristan to The Express Tribune. “Abu Hafs’ death will further degrade al Qaeda’s ability to recover from the death of Atiyah in August because of his operations experience and connections within the group. Abu Hafs’ death removes a key threat inside Pakistan, where he collaborated closely with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan to conduct coordinated attacks.” (Additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2011.