(AFP) – Jul 29, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani security officials were seeking confirmation on Tuesday that a top Al-Qaeda expert on chemical and biological weapons had been killed in a suspected US missile strike.
News of the strike targeting Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar came as premier Yousuf Raza Gilani urged US President George W. Bush not to act "unilaterally" against militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal zones.
There was no immediate confirmation from Washington or the US-led coalition in Afghanistan about Monday's strike in the South Waziristan tribal district, which residents said was carried out by a pilotless US drone.
The Egyptian militant -- who is also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri -- has a five-million-dollar US bounty on his head and is alleged to have trained hundreds of extremists at camps in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
"We continue to believe that Abu Khabab was the one who was killed in this strike," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP, a day after other officials said they had information that the militant was dead.
"We are still gathering physical evidence to confirm this but the information we have is that he is dead," the official said, without elaborating.
Other officials said proof that Umar was dead would come from footage from the drone combined with intelligence information from the region. Residents said victims of the strike were buried soon after the attack.
Umar's 18-year-old son, another Egyptian, two Saudis and a Pakistani were also among the six people killed when missiles hit a house attached to a village mosque, security officials said.
His second wife, a Pakistani, and another son were being treated at a hospital in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, they said.
Militants were keeping everyone away from the building, residents added.
Pakistani officials said Umar had given explosives training to a generation of militants, including British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a transatlantic jet in December 2001.
Umar was a trainer at Al-Qaeda's Derunta camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s, "where he provided hundreds of mujahedin with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives," the US government Rewards for Justice website says.
"Since 1999, he has distributed training manuals that contain instructions for making chemical and biological weapons."
More recently, Umar ran a training camp specialising in making car bombs, officials in northwest Pakistan said. He wore local dress to blend in, they said.
"Al-Masri was present in the area for a long time and according to our information he trained a significant number of people for suicide bombings," a security official said.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the army was still seeking "authentic information." Claims that Umar was killed in another air strike in January 2006 turned out to be false.
US and NATO forces in Afghanistan both denied involvement. The US Central Intelligence Agency is also known to operate drones in the region.
Pakistan has protested over a wave of apparent US missile strikes in recent months that have killed dozens of people. One such attack in January killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Al-Qaeda commander.
Gilani insisted after meeting with Bush at the White House on Monday that Pakistan was committed to fighting extremists.
Asked on CNN about the missile strike, Gilani said he had told Bush that "unilaterally it should not be done." If proven to have been a US operation, it would be a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, he added.
Pakistan's fledgling government caused concern in Washington by launching talks with militants soon after beating allies of US-backed President Pervez Musharraf in elections in February.
Militants kidnapped 30 troops and police in northwestern Pakistan's Swat Valley on Tuesday, a day after killing three intelligence officials, threatening a shaky truce in the region.
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