- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Mohammed Atef, a top deputy of Osama bin Laden accused of helping plan the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, is believed to have been killed by a U.S. airstrike in the last two days, U.S. officials said today.

“This guy was bin Laden's military specialist since the early 1990s, widely thought to be bin Laden's successor in the event of his death,'' said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The airstrike took place near Kabul, the Afghan capital, said the official, who added U.S. intelligence has credible evidence Atef was killed. But another official said Atef's body has not been located.

Atef, an Egyptian, has been indicted for involvement in the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

The death of bin Laden's operational planner is expected to hurt the ability of the al-Qaida network to launch terrorist attacks. The group's members are being pursued in Afghanistan by U.S. special forces and rebels opposed to the Taliban regime.

Earlier this year, Atef's daughter married bin Laden's son. TV footage of the wedding was broadcast on an Arab satellite station in January.

The focus of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has shifted more toward tracking down bin Laden and al-Qaida leaders, who are thought to be hiding in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban still retain some control. Along with spiritual adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, Atef was said to be one of bin Laden's top two lieutenants.

Pentagon officials have said some senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders have been killed in recent days, but have offered no names.

The State Department was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Atef.

In October 1999, the FBI charged Atef and other al-Qaida members in a conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals. The indictment pointed to the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as being part of the conspiracy.

Atef, who is also known as Sobhi al-Sitta and Abu Hafs el-Masry, is believed to be a former Egyptian police officer. His affiliation with bin Laden dates back to the early 1980s, when he helped bin Laden recruit fighters for the Afghan war with the Soviet Union.

He later helped establish al-Qaida and took charge of its security. He was principally responsible for operational planning and terrorist training for al-Qaida members.

The British government says Atef traveled to Somalia several times in 1992 and 1993 to organize violence against U.S. and U.N. troops then stationed in that African nation. On each occasion he reported back to bin Laden, who was based at the time in Khartoum, Sudan.

Atef was the commander of the military wing of the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusades, which was formed by the 1998 merger of bin Laden's al-Qaida group with Islamic Jihad of Egypt, and two Pakistani militant groups and a Bangladeshi unit.

The military wing, known as the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites, claimed responsibility for the 1998 embassy bombings.

Last month, the London-based Islamic Observation Center, which acts as a public relations contact for Islamic fundamentalist groups, quoted Atef as saying U.S. troops would suffer the same fate in Afghanistan as they did in Somalia, where bodies of slain U.S. soldiers were dragged through the streets in 1993.

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