A senior Al Qaeda commander believed to have trained the suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole was killed July 28 in a missile strike on his hideout in Pakistan’s tribal region, according to news reports (here and here). Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Egpytian, had a $5-million price on his head at the time of his death, which was confirmed Sunday by a news release on an Al Qaeda-affiliated website. Al-Masri’s bio, as described in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
A chemist by training, Mr. Masri started in al Qaeda as a bomb maker but branched out into the development of biological and chemical weapons after the terror group settled in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There he was entrusted with part of al Qaeda’s so-called yogurt project to develop weapons of mass destruction, and operated a training camp in the village of Derunta. He tried unsuccessfully to develop an anthrax weapon and, with Dr. Zawahri, tried to develop poisons that could kill more quickly by mixing them with chemicals that caused them to be absorbed into the skin more rapidly.
It isn’t clear how much of the research bore results, though U.S. authorities said Mr. Masri did gas some dogs at the Derunta training camp. U.S. authorities said he provided hundreds of mujahedeen with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives and distributed training manuals showing how to make chemical and biological weapons.
Al Qaeda acknowledged that three other commanders were killed in the strike, all identified by pseudonyms including the name “al-Masri,” which in Arabic means Egyptian. Their true identities are unknown, but an Al Qaeda communication intercepted by CBS News might shed some light on at least one of them. A letter bearing the signature and personal seal of Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud urgently requests a doctor for Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is Al Qaeda’s number two leader, often pictured alongside Osama Bin Laden. Mehsud wrote that al-Zawahiri is in “severe pain” and “his injuries are infected.” Experts have confirmed the missive’s authenticity, but when news of the letter was reported, Al Qaeda issued a denial, claiming that al-Zawahiri was not among those injured in the July 28 missile strike.