Senior al Qaeda operative killed in Pakistan, U.S. says

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

A senior al Qaeda operative, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, was killed in northwest Pakistan earlier this week, U.S. officials said Thursday.

"It has been confirmed that al Qaeda's chief of Pakistan operations, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, was killed earlier this week in Waziristan, Pakistan," a senior U.S. official told the Envoy on condition of anonymity Thursday.

Abu Hafs' "death will further degrade al Qaeda's ability to recover from the death last month of AQ's number two, Atiyah [Abd al-Rahman], because of his operations experience and connections within the group," the official also said.

American officials described Abu Hafs as an al Qaeda operative who collaborated closely with the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, to conduct coordinated attacks.

The Associated Press reported that Abu Haf is the al Qaeda alias for a Saudi national whose real name is Osama Hamoud Gharman Al-Shihri, who was described as No. 11 on Saudi Arabia's list of its 85 most wanted terror suspects.

"Osama Hamoud Gharman al-Shihri is No. 11 on the  January '09 Saudi list of most wanted, and he went by Abu Hafs or Abu Hafs al Shihri," the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Christopher Boucek, an expert on Saudi Arabia, told the Envoy by email Thursday. The Saudi list "is only persons outside Saudi Arabia. The order of the list is not an importance ranking, it is alphabetical in Arabic, then transliterated into English."

Al-Shihri "was born in 1981 and reportedly left Saudi Arabia for Syria in 2000," Boucek added. "Saudi authorities had assessed he was in South Asia (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan) at the time the list came out in 2009, and he was alleged to have traveled to Afghanistan." (For a closer look at the Saudi terror list, see Boucek's and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's recently released interactive guide to 11 figures on it, pictured at top right).

"The [U.S.] official said the same person is No. 68 on Interpol's most wanted list, where his name was spelled 'Al-Shehri' and his birthdate was listed as Sept. 17, 1981," the AP's Kimberly Dozier reported.American officials did not disclose how Abu Hafs was killed, but reports suggested it was likely by a U.S. drone strike. (See this New America Foundation graphic mapping reported U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and August 2011.)

Al Qaeda's commanders "are being eliminated at a far faster rate than al Qaeda can replace them," undersecretary of defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told a counterterrorism conference this week, CNN reported.