Key al Qaeda member killed in Afghanistan: Web

A U.S. soldier looks through a pair of binoculars on his rifle as he patrols the Jaji district of the southeastern Paktia province, near the Afghan-Pakistan border January 28, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

KABUL (Reuters) - A prominent member of al Qaeda was killed in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Sunday.

Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi, formerly one of the group’s leaders in Iraq, was killed in a “fierce battle with the worshipers of the cross” in Paktia, it said without giving the date of the battle.

Another al Qaeda member, identified as Abu Dejana al-Qahtani, also died in the fighting, it added.

Afghan officials said they had no information on the report. But the government earlier said in a statement that “five opposition” fighters were killed on Saturday in Paktia during an operation involving Afghan and U.S.-led troops.

The leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said Qahtani left Iraq about six months ago without giving further details.

Otaibi was the head of the judiciary at the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, a group started by al Qaeda and fellow Sunni militant groups.

Violence has been at its worst level in Afghanistan since 2006, the bloodiest period since the removal of the al Qaeda-backed Taliban in 2001.

U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001 after its leaders refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and his top aides to the United States for trial for the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

Reporting by Inal Ersan in Dubai and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul; editing by Sami Aboudi