Al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, US and Pakistani officials said today.
A Libyan national, al-Rahman never had the worldwide name recognition of bin Laden or bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But al-Rahman was regarded as an instrumental figure in the terrorist organisation, trusted by bin Laden to oversee al-Qaida’s daily operations.
When Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound and killed him in May, they found evidence of al-Rahman’s deep involvement in running al-Qaida.
Al-Zawahiri is running the group but is considered a divisive figure who lacks the founder’s charisma and ability to galvanise al -Qaida’s disparate franchises.
A US official said al-Rahman’s death will make it harder for Zawahiri to oversee what is considered an increasingly weakened organisation.
“Zawahiri needed Atiyah’s experience and connections to help manage al-Qaida,” the official said.
Al-Rahman was killed on August 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to a senior administration official.
A Pakistani intelligence official said al-Rahman died in a US missile strike in Machi Khel village in North Waziristan.
Intelligence officials had said at the time that four people were killed in the attack.
But a CIA drone strike was reported that day in Waziristan. Such strikes by unmanned aircraft are Washington’s weapon of choice for killing terrorists in the mountainous, hard-to-reach area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Al-Rahman joined bin Laden as a teenager in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union.
He once served as bin Laden’s personal emissary to Iran. Al-Rahman was allowed to move freely in and out of Iran as part of that arrangement and has been operating out of Waziristan for some time, officials have said.