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US officials claim a senior figure in al-Qaeda central command, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, was killed in a drone attack in the Waziristan region in Pakistan in the last few days.
There has been no independent confirmation of the Saudi Arabian national’s death, however, and Pakistani officials claim to have no knowledge of the attack. “We have neither heard of this man operating in this region, nor can we confirm his death,” said one Pakistani intelligence official working in the area.
Drone strikes in the tribal border region have increased since the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May, and under President Obama have increased by 300% compared to those launched by former President Bush.
The speed of Islamic funerals, difficult terrain, and lack of media access make deaths in the region difficult to confirm. However, if this claim is true, al Shahri will be the sixth senior al-Qaeda figure killed by either US or Pakistani forces in Pakistan since bin Laden in May – a rate of nearly two a month.
Only three weeks ago Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda’s suspected chief of operations, was killed in a drone attack. “Shahri’s death will further degrade al-Qaeda’s ability to recover from the death last month of al-Qaeda’s number two, Atiyah, because of his operations experience and connections within the group,” said a US official. “Shahri’s death removes a key threat inside Pakistan, where he collaborated closely with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan to conduct coordinated attacks.”