Al-Qaida plotter believed killed by drone

Dec. 11, 2009 at 7:19 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A missile fired by a CIA drone is believed to have killed a senior al-Qaida operations planner in the tribal regions of western Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

One American official said there were "strong indications" Saleh al-Somali was killed Tuesday when the missile hit a station wagon in Spalga, about 7 miles from Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, The New York Times reported. The strike killed three people, two of them foreigners, residents and a Pakistani intelligence official said.

Al-Somali was likely responsible for planning attacks against the United States and Europe, a U.S. official said, and was the main link between al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and allies in East Africa, including the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

"He took strategic guidance from (al-Qaida's) top leadership and translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks," the official said.

The White House has approved a CIA plan to expand the use of drones to fire missiles at suspected al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan. But Pakistan's government, which has not approved the plan, publicly condemns the drone attacks.

The drones are controlled by the CIA from the United States. They can remain over a target for hours, sending information to their controllers, which U.S. officials said makes them less likely to kill civilians than manned air strikes.

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