PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Senior Al Qaeda commander Abu Saeed al-Masri was killed in recent clashes with Pakistani forces near the Afghan border, a security official said on Tuesday.
“He was believed to be among the top leadership of al Qaeda,” the senior security official said on condition of anonymity.
Al-Masri, which means “the Egyptian”, was the most senior al Qaeda operative to have been killed in Pakistan’s tribal belt since the death of his compatriot, Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert, last month.
Television channels identified the dead man as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid and said he was also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri.
He was killed in recent clashes in the Bajaur tribal region, a known sanctuary for al Qaeda operatives on the Afghan border, the security official said.
Yazid, commander of al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, was an Egyptian who served time in jail with al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
He has been referred to as al Qaeda’s third most senior figure, after the elimination or capture of five earlier occupants of the number three spot since 2001.
Earlier, the September 11 Commission described Yazid as the network’s “chief financial manager”.
Nearly 160 people have been killed in clashes between Pakistani security forces and the militants in Bajaur since last Wednesday.
“There are many foreign elements there, more than local militants,” the security official said.
Yazid gave a rare interview to Pakistan’s private Geo Television, aired last month, in which he said a suicide bomber who carried out an attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad in June came from the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Mahmood Shah, a former security chief of Pakistan’s northwestern ethnic Pastun tribal areas, said al-Masri and Yazid appeared to be the same person and his death would have an impact on insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“It’s one more important person gone. It will have an impact,” Shah said.
“Al Qaeda is the main machine behind the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban, the Chechens and the Uzbeks, are used as foot soldiers as cannon fodder but the actual machine is al Qaeda.”
In the latest violence in northwest Pakistan, 13 people were killed on Tuesday in a bomb attack on an air force bus in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Militants based on the Afghan border have been accused of a series of attacks on security forces over the past year.
Provincial police chief Malik Naveed Khan said five of the dead were air force personnel and eight were civilians.
In the latest violence in Bajaur, six civilians trying to flee from the area were killed in cross-fire, a government official said.
“Their vehicle was caught in an exchange of fire that erupted this morning,” said the official based in the region, who declined to be identified.
Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel