Predator Strike Kills Somali Jihadist Leader--in Pakistan

U.S. authorities are increasingly confident that a Somalia-born jihadist whom they describe as a senior Al Qaeda operations planner was killed in the Pakistani border region by a missile fired from a U.S.-operated unmanned Predator drone, according to U.S. and Pakistani counter-terrorism officials. The dead terrorist operative was identified as Saleh al-Somali, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official, who like other officials cited in this story asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information. Another U.S. official indicated that the missile strike is believed to have occurred earlier this week in or near the town of Miran Shah in the Pakistani tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

A U.S. counterterrorism official described al-Somali as an important cog in what is left of Al Qaeda's central leadership. According to the official, the dead man "was responsible for Al Qaeda's operations outside the Afghan-Pakistan region. He was engaged in plotting throughout the world. Given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe. He took strategic guidance from Al Qaeda top leadership and translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks."

A U.S. counter-terrorism official acknowledged that Saleh al-Somali is a nom de guerre, and said that the dead man's real name is believed to be Abdirizaq Abdi Saleh.

The official added that al-Somali was part of Al Qaeda's "core leadership cadre, and he maintained connections to other Pakistan-based extremists. He had been very involved in Al Qaeda's propaganda operations and worked with Western Al Qaeda recruits upon their arrival in the tribal areas of Pakistan." The U.S. official also said that al-Somali maintained relationships between the remnants of Al Qaeda's central leadership and Al Qaeda's affiliates in east Africa, including the Somali-based group Al Shabaab. As NEWSWEEK and other media have reported earlier this year, U.S. authorities are conducting an investigation into as many as 20 young Somali-Americans from the Minneapolis area who reportedly have traveled to Somalia to train for jihad with Al-Shabab.

This is one of the first examples of a Somali-born militant rising to a high enough position in the Al Qaeda hierarchy to become prominent enough to be targeted by the CIA-operated Predator program. The CIA and other U.S. government agencies routinely decline comment on any aspect of that program, whose operations are highly classified.

There are signs that Miran Shah has become a magnet for jihadis around the world. A recent FBI affidavit quotes an e-mail by David Coleman Headley—the Chicago man charged with plotting a terror attack in Denmark as well as conducting surveillance for last year's Mumbai attack—as describing the town's bazaar as teeming with jihadi fighters. "This bazaar is bustling with Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Bosnians, some from EU countries and of course our Arab brothers."