U.S. Says 'No Confirmation' Qaida's Kashmiri is Dead
The United States has had "no confirmation" that Pakistani al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri died in a drone strike last week, a U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said Monday.
A senior Pakistani security official said two days ago there were "strong indications" that Kashmiri -- who had a maximum US bounty of $5 million on his head -- had been killed in a U.S. drone strike last Friday.
"We have no confirmation that he’s dead" as of Sunday evening, the official told Agence France Presse in Kabul on day three of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's farewell visit to Afghanistan.
Friday's drone strike targeted a compound in the Pakistani tribal district of South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, killing nine members of Kashmiri's group, according to local Pakistani officials.
The 47-year-old is one of the most feared operational commanders of the network that Osama bin Laden founded and has been blamed for a string of high-profile attacks on Western targets, as well as in India and Pakistan.
His killing would likely be seen as a huge achievement in the United States after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan, itself feted as the greatest psychological victory over al-Qaida since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But Pakistani officials have stressed that it was impossible to provide 100 percent confirmation, so soon after the attack, without access to the bodies.
The corpses were burnt beyond recognition and swiftly buried. Militants barred access to the site of the attack in Ghwakhwa in South Waziristan, a militant stronghold despite a sweeping Pakistani offensive in 2009.
Pakistani officials said Kashmiri had been in the area for several days and that all those killed were from his Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islam (HuJI) group.
Anti-terrorism experts have described Kashmiri as one of al-Qaida's main operational commanders. He also reportedly escaped a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan in late 2009.
He has been blamed for multiple attacks in Pakistan, including the two most humiliating assaults on the military -- a May 22 siege on a naval air base in Karachi and in October 2009 on the national army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Counter-terrorism officials believe he was the main coordinator of a terror plot targeting Britain, France, Germany and the United States, which was apparently in the early stages when detected by intelligence agencies in 2010.