PESHAWAR: A senior al-Qaeda operative and potential successor to the group’s leader Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in the early Thursday morning drone attack in North Waziristan, tribal sources said.
“Sheikh Abu Zaid had replaced Abu Yahya al-Libbi as al-Qaeda operational chief in the region after the latter was killed in a drone strike a few months ago. He was staying in Mubarakshi village of Mir Ali subdivision in North Waziristan along with his family when he came under attack by the CIA-operated spy plane,” a well-informed tribesman told this correspondent.
Abu Zaid was reportedly preparing for “Tahajud” (midnight prayer) and was in a bathroom in the house when he came under attack.
The drone fired three missiles two hit Abu Zaid while the third one did not explode.
Pleading anonymity, the sources said the six-year old daughter of Abu Zaid was seriously injured in the strike and was admitted to a hospital in Mir Ali.
“It was a terrible scene. The minor girl was seriously injured but she was telling people that her father has been martyred in the attack,” an eyewitness said.
As al-Qaeda never hides the loss of its leaders, the news about his death was first announced on an al-Qaeda web forum early Friday. It, however, said he was eating his ‘sehri’ apparently to keep fast when the drone pounded his house with missiles.
“We celebrate to you the news of the martyrdom of the working scholar Sheikh Khalid al-Hussainan (Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti) while eating his Suhoor (pre-dawn time) meal, and we ask Allah to accept him in paradise,” the post on the web said.
In recent years, the 46-year old al-Hussainan was seen in a number of al-Qaeda videos giving training to the group’s operatives.
The videos were widely circulated by al-Shabab, al-Qaeda’s media wing.
There were also reports he authored a number of religious books.
Taliban sources said he was earlier living in another village but shifted to Mubarakshi in Mir Ali subdivision only a few days ago and that too on the insistence of his close friends.
“After the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libbi in a similar strike, the Arab Mujahideen were very much worried for his security”, a Taliban commander in North Waziristan said.
He said Abu Zaid had replaced Abu Yahya al-Libbi after he was killed in a drone strike on June 4 in Hasukhel village of Mir Ali town in North Waziristan. Besides al-Libbi, 10 other people, mostly Arab nationals, were killed in the strike. He also said that al-Libbi’s family too was living with Abu Zaid in the same house.
Taliban sources said Abu Zaid was considered as an elder among the Arab fighters engaged in fight against US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani security officials based in the tribal region said they had heard about the loss of senior al-Qaeda figure but were not aware of his identity and rank.
“We thought that something will happen as six drones had been constantly flying over Mubarakshi village for the past four days,” a Pakistani security official said on the condition of anonymity.