December 11, 2009 / 6:21 PM / 10 years ago

Drone strike believed to kill senior al Qaeda plotter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan is believed to have killed a senior al Qaeda leader responsible for plotting attacks beyond the Afghan-Pakistan region, a U.S. counter-terrorism official said on Friday.

“There are strong indications that Saleh al-Somali, a senior al-Qaeda operations planner, has died,” said the official, who declined to be named.

The official said al-Somali was part of al Qaeda’s “core leadership cadre” and plotted attacks globally, likely including the United States and Europe.

“He took strategic guidance from (al Qaeda’s) top leadership and translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks,” the official said.

The official added al-Somali maintained connections to other Pakistan-based extremists and had been very involved in al-Qaeda’s propaganda operations.

He worked with Western al Qaeda recruits upon their arrival in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the official said. He also maintained relationships with al Qaeda’s allies in East Africa, including al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-inspired rebel group that has taken control of large areas of south and central Somalia.

The strike, which took place sometime in the past week, is part of a stepped-up campaign using pilotless drone aircraft against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan under President Barack Obama.

Pakistan officially objects to the U.S. strikes. It says they violate its sovereignty and stoke public anger, bolstering support for Islamists.

Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a similar U.S. strike in August.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Todd Eastham

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