July 7, 2011 / 4:29 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. now believes Qaeda leader Kashmiri is dead

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. counter-terrorism agencies have concluded that a senior al Qaeda leader implicated in terrorist plots in South Asia and Europe is dead, a U.S. official said, following weeks of conflicting reports on his fate.

<p>Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami, from one of about a dozen guerrilla organisations fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, speaks during a news conference in Islamabad July 11, 2001. Reuters/file</p>

Pakistani officials said last month that Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged leader of both al Qaeda and one of its Pakistan-based affiliates, had been killed by a drone-borne U.S. missile strike on a target in northwestern Pakistan.

Media reports quoted a commander of Harakat-ul Jihad Islami (HUJI), the local group with which Kashmiri allegedly was affiliated, confirming his death.

But when these reports first surfaced, U.S. officials said they could not confirm that Kashmiri had been killed. They noted that in September 2009 Kashmiri also had been reported to have been killed in a drone strike, which turned out to be untrue.

A senior U.S. official said that in the weeks since the most recent disputed report of Kashmiri’s death, U.S. agencies had confirmed to their satisfaction that Kashmiri is dead. The official declined to elaborate on what kind of evidence the United States had acquired confirming his demise.

Kashmiri is the latest in a series of militant leaders who have been killed or captured in recent U.S. counter-terrorism operation. They include al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed in a Navy SEAL raid, and Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a leader of the Somali militant group al Shabaab, captured at sea in April.

Kashmiri, said to be a former Pakistani military officer, reportedly was on a list Washington gave to Pakistan of militants the United States wanted captured or killed, a Pakistani official told Reuters.

The U.S. State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his location, describing him as the commander of HUJI, which launched several attacks in India and Pakistan, including a March 2006 suicide bombing of the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. Four people, including an American diplomat, were killed.

Kashmiri also was under indictment in the United States for allegedly plotting to attack a newspaper in Denmark.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Warren Strobel and Vicki Allen

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