WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Al Qaeda’s new second-in-command was killed earlier this week in Pakistan, US officials said yesterday, in a major blow to the group still reeling from the death of Osama bin Laden.
Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a Libyan national, rose to the number two spot when Ayman al-Zawahri took the reins of al Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in May in a US raid in Pakistan.
One US official said Rahman was killed in a strike by an unmanned drone on Aug. 22. He was killed in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan where intelligence officials believe members of al Qaeda are hiding, other US officials said.
“Atiyah’s death is a tremendous loss for al Qaeda, because (Zawahri) was relying heavily on him to help guide and run the organization, especially since bin Laden’s death,” one US official said.
“The trove of materials from bin Laden’s compound showed clearly that Atiyah was deeply involved in directing al Qaeda’s operations even before the (May) raid. He had multiple responsibilities in the organization and will be very difficult to replace,” the official said.
US and Pakistani intelligence ties have been strained since the unilateral American strike against bin Laden, and Pakistani intelligence did not confirm Rahman’s death. Sources in Pakistan said four people known to have been killed in a US drone strike on Aug. 22 were local militants and not al Qaeda.
Although most US officials described Rahman as al Qaeda’s No. 2, one said his rank wasn’t as clear, saying he could be considered one of the top three leaders of the organization.