|The death of Atiyah Abd al-Rahman on Aug. 22 was cited as evidence Al Qaeda is on the verge of defeat.|
Al Qaeda’s No. 2 has been killed, US, Pakistani aides say
Rahman’s death seen as curbing terrorist actions
WASHINGTON - Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the United States believes to be on the verge of defeat, US and Pakistani officials said yesterday.
Since Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound and killed him in May, the Obama administration has been unusually frank in its assessment that Al Qaeda is on the ropes, its leadership in disarray.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that Al Qaeda’s defeat was within reach if the United States could mount a string of successful attacks.
“Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them,’’ Panetta said, “because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple Al Qaeda as a major threat.’’
Rahman was killed Aug. 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues. The official would not say how Rahman was killed.
A Pakistani intelligence official said Rahman died in a US missile strike in Machi Khel village in North Waziristan.
Rahman never had the worldwide name recognition of bin Laden or bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri. But Rahman was regarded as an instrumental figure in the terrorist organization, trusted by bin Laden to oversee Al Qaeda’s daily operations.
When the SEALs raided bin Laden’s compound, they found evidence of Rahman’s deep involvement in running Al Qaeda.
Senior Al Qaeda figures like Rahman have been killed before, only to be replaced. But the Obama administration is cautiously optimic that victory in the decadelong fight against Al Qaeda could be at hand.
“It does hold the prospect of a strategic defeat, if you will, a strategic dismantling, of Al Qaeda,’’ incoming CIA director David Petraeus said in July.
Since bin Laden’s death, counterterrorism officials have hoped to capitalize on Al Qaeda’s unsettled leadership. The more uncertain the structure, the harder it is for Al Qaeda to operate covertly and plan attacks.
Zawahri is running the group, but he is considered a divisive figure who lacks the founder’s charisma and ability to galvanize Al Qaeda’s disparate franchises.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to summarize the government’s intelligence on Rahman, said that Rahman’s death will make it harder for Zawahri to oversee what is considered an increasingly weakened organization.
“Zawahri needed Atiyah’s experience and connections to help manage Al Qaeda,’’ the official said.
Rahman has been thought to be dead before. Last year, there were reports that he had been killed in a drone strike; neither US officials nor Al Qaeda ever confirmed them. The officials who confirmed the death Saturday said it represented the consensus opinion of the US government.
Rahman was born in Libya and joined bin Laden as a teenager in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union.
He once served as bin Laden’s personal emissary to Iran. 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.
In a separate development, teams of Taliban fighters crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan yesterday and attacked security checkpoints in a previously peaceful region of the northwestern frontier. The attacks killed more than two dozen soldiers and police, Pakistani officials said.
Pakistan has blamed Afghan and NATO forces for not doing enough to stop such cross-border attacks, which could get worse as the United States withdraws troops from Afghanistan. The area where Pakistan said Saturday’s attack originated has largely been abandoned by the United States in recent years.
Afghan officials denied that the militants came from their side of the border. The Afghan government has long said the center of the Taliban insurgency is in Pakistan.
The Pakistani military said that at least 200 militants crossed into Chitral district yesterday morning and attacked seven checkpoints run by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, two of which were overrun. The scenic mountainous region has rarely experienced militant violence.
There were varying reports about the number of Pakistani security troops and militants killed in the attack. The Pakistani military said 25 paramilitary soldiers and police and 20 militants were killed in the fighting. But local police official Nizam Khan said 38 soldiers and police died, along with nine militants.
Fighting continued yesterday afternoon, as Pakistan sent in reinforcements to drive the militants back across the border, the military said.
The militants chanted “God is great!’’ and “Long live jihad!’’ as they fought, said Captain Abdul Ghani of the paramilitary forces.
The military blamed the attack on Pakistani Taliban fighters and their Afghan allies who have taken sanctuary in the Afghan districts of Nuristan and Kunar.