- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

From combined dispatches

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan yesterday denied a media report that a CIA Predator aircraft killed a senior al Qaeda operative near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last week.

ABC News, quoting unidentified intelligence sources, reported Friday that senior al Qaeda operative Haitham al-Yemeni was killed by a missile fired from the unmanned aircraft.

But Pakistan’s Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed said, “No such incident took place near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”

A U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, Lt. Cindy Moore, said forces from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan were not involved in such an incident, but she couldn’t say whether it had taken place.

The CIA has declined to comment on the report.

Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, earlier this month arrested Abu Farraj al-Libbi, reputed to be al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader.

ABC News said that after the capture of al-Libbi, officials decided to strike at al-Yemeni rather than risk that he would go into hiding.

Al-Yemeni, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked in the hope that he would help lead the United States to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, ABC News quoted intelligence officials as saying.

The CIA has the authority to fire against senior al Qaeda figures anywhere in the world, though it is not clear whether the Pakistanis approved of the action in advance, ABC News said.

This would be the fourth known time the CIA Predator has opened fire on al Qaeda targets.

Six suspected extremists, including Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a close associate of bin Laden, were killed in Yemen in November 2002. Officials said that on two other occasions the Predator has been used to attack people mistakenly thought to be bin Laden.

Pakistani army troops have been hunting al Qaeda terrorists in the lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan since late 2003, but the government prohibits foreign forces operating in its territory.

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