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US strike reportedly kills top Al Qaeda leader

Masri managed accounts used to fund 9/11 attacks

A Qaeda website reported Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri’s death . A Qaeda website reported Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri’s death .
By Kimberly Dozier
Associated Press / June 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON — In what could be one of the hardest blows to Al Qaeda since the US campaign against the terrorist organization began, the group’s number three, Sheikh Sa’id al-Masri, is believed to be dead, killed by a Predator drone strike, a US official said yesterday.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said word was “spreading in extremist circles’’ of his death in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the past two weeks. Most prominent is an announcement of his death on the Internet by Al Qaeda’s so-called General Command, reported by the IntelCenter. Masri has been reported killed before, in 2008, but this is the first time his death has been acknowledged by the militant group on the Internet.

Masri, also known as Mustafa al-Yazid, was the group’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and he was key to day-to-day control, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning, the US official said.

The official says his death would be a major blow to Al Qaeda, which in December “lost both its internal and external operations chiefs.’’

Masri has been one of many targets in a US Predator drone campaign aimed at militants in Pakistan since President Obama took office. The Egyptian-born militant made no secret of his contempt for the United States, once calling it “the evil empire leading crusades against the Muslims.’’

“We have reached the point where we see no difference between the state and the American people,’’ Masri told Pakistan’s Geo TV in a June 2008 interview. “The United States is a non-Muslim state bent on the destruction of Muslims.’’

The 55-year-old Masri has been involved with Islamic extremist movements for nearly 30 years since he joined radical student groups led by fellow Egyptian Zawahiri, now the number two figure in Al Qaeda after bin Laden.

In the early 1980s, Masri served three years in an Egyptian prison for purported links to the group responsible for the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. After his release, Masri turned up in Afghanistan, where, according to Al Qaeda’s propaganda wing, Al-Sabah, he became a founding member of the terrorist group.

He later followed bin Laden to Sudan and back to Afghanistan, where he served as Al Qaeda’s chief financial officer, managing secret bank accounts in the Persian Gulf that were used to help finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

After the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Masri went into hiding for years.