- Associated Press - Sunday, December 9, 2012

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A U.S. drone strike has killed a senior al Qaeda leader in Pakistan‘s tribal region near the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said, in the latest blow to the Islamic militant network.

Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who also was known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house Thursday near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Al-Kuwaiti appeared in many videos released by al Qaeda’s media wing, Al-Sahab, and was presented as a religious scholar for the group.

Earlier this year, he replaced Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan in June, the intelligence officials said. Al-Libi was a key religious figure within al Qaeda and also a prominent militant commander.

Al-Kuwaiti appeared to be a less prominent figure and was not on the U.S. State Department’s list of most-wanted terrorist suspects, as al-Libi was.

Covert CIA drone strikes have killed a series of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan‘s tribal region over the past few years, but the attacks are controversial because the secret nature of the program makes it difficult to determine how many civilians are being killed.

Pakistani officials often criticize the strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, which has helped make them extremely unpopular in the country. But senior Pakistani officials are known to have cooperated with strikes in the past, and many people believe they still do.

Al-Kuwaiti’s wife and daughter were wounded in Thursday’s drone attack, according to the intelligence officials. His wife died a day later at a hospital in Miran Shah, another main town in North Waziristan.

Al-Kuwaiti was buried in Tappi village near Mir Ali on Friday, the officials said.

A Pakistani Taliban commander who frequently visits North Waziristan told The Associated Press by telephone that he had met some Arab fighters on Saturday who were “very aggrieved.” The Arabs told him they lost a “big leader” in a drone strike but would not reveal his name or his exact position in al Qaeda.

The Taliban commander spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of revealing his identity to the Pakistani government.

Al Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan has been dealt a series of sharp blows in the past few years, including the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad last year. A significant number of senior al Qaeda leaders also have been killed in U.S. drone attacks in the country.

Many analysts believe the biggest threat now comes from al Qaeda franchises in such places as Yemen and Somalia.

Ishtiaq Mahsud reported from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.

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