ISLAMABAD (AFP) — An Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative -- described by the United States as the terror network's propaganda chief -- was killed in a missile strike in Pakistan, security officials said on Saturday.
Abu Jihad al-Masri was among several rebels killed when two missiles fired by a suspected US spy drone hit a truck in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan on Friday night, they said.
The United States has offered a one-million-dollar bounty for the death or capture of al-Masri, who has appeared in an anti-Western video introduced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's number two.
"The strike was aimed at a vehicle carrying Abu Jihad and two others. The target was successfully hit and all three people were killed," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
His death came in one of two separate missile attacks in Pakistan's troubled tribal belt on Friday, the latest in a series of 18 strikes in the past three months that have raised tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
The attacks also come just days before the US presidential election, in which the "war on terror" in Afghanistan and, increasingly, Pakistan has been a key foreign policy issue.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Pakistani military or from US forces deployed in Afghanistan about al-Masri's death.
But some 250 schoolchildren in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan where a second strike on Friday killed 12 militants and injured 30 others, staged a protest march shouting "Death to America" and urging an end to "US aggression".
The US State Department's Rewards for Justice website said that the balding al-Masri "is in charge of Al-Qaeda media and propaganda. He may also be the chief of external operations for Al-Qaeda".
It said he was believed to operate out of Iran, but Pakistani officials said he was known to have moved to the Pakistani tribal belt in 2005 or 2006. It said he also went by the alias Mohammad Hasan Khalil al-Hakim.
In 2006, al-Masri appeared in a video introduced by his fellow countryman Zawahiri, in which al-Masri said that his own Islamic group, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, had joined forces with Al-Qaeda.
The video was released by As Sahab, Al-Qaeda's media arm.
Later that year al-Masri issued a website statement calling Pope Benedict XVI a "spiteful crusader" after the pontiff made remarks on Islam and violence, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a US organisation that monitors Islamist websites.
Militant sources in Pakistan said al-Masri was primarily involved in "ideology" and not so much with Al-Qaeda's operational side.
A former member of Islamic Jihad, Kamal Habib, told AFP in Cairo that al-Masri used to belong to the same Islamist group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, leading a cell in the southern Aswan province.
"He was a second generation leader, not from the generation involved in killing Sadat," he said.
The last Al-Qaeda figure on the State Department list to be killed in a missile strike was chemical weapons expert Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who died in July in the South Waziristan tribal region.
Among those wounded in the Wana attack Friday was Mullah Nazir, a top Pakistani Taliban commander accused of engineering attacks on international forces deployed in Afghanistan, officials said.
Security officials said that Abu Akash, an Arab Al-Qaeda militant reported to have been killed in the first missile attack, now appeared to have escaped.
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