Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, the most wanted terrorist after Osama bin Laden, with a $25 million bounty on his head, is holed up near Quetta, Pakistan, according to a highly placed Pakistani intelligence source.
The Egyptian-born radical is a master of disguise, a meticulous planner and the deadliest of terrorists. Yet Pakistani intelligence sources say he roams openly and with impunity in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Predators continue to strike at a variety of key terror targets in that area, our source tells us that the CIA and other intelligence agencies cannot get al-Zawahiri, though they usually know for the most part where he is.
Al-Zawahiri’s recent movements can be tracked with some specificity. He was positively identified in the North Waziristan Agency of Pakistan in June 2008, and the locations pinpointed where he conducted high-level meetings.
Subsequent U.S. drone attacks forced him to move to South Waziristan Agency in August 2008. Thereafter he moved south to Baluchistan and crossed into Afghanistan from the border city of Zhob. He returned to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) sometime in December or January. A well-placed source in Pakistan’s intelligence service tells me that he may have relocated recently to somewhere outside of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
Al-Zawahiri hides in plain sight. He has given up the trappings of a high-value target, has no large entourage and dresses in the manner of the people in the areas in which he resides. He moves his wives frequently to preclude any identification by that means.
He does not trust locals and is protected by a security force of trusted Egyptians. However, quite a few old veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan recognize him as he moves about the area.
Pakistani intelligence agencies have shared with the CIA their knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s location in the Quetta suburbs.
But the No. 2 most wanted man in the world is still roaming free.
Jasmeen Manzoor is a senior journalist and political analyst at Business Plus TV, Pakistan.