By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
It has been a rough couple of weeks for the Egyptian al Qaeda contingent in Pakistan. On Aug. 12, Pakistani security sources confirmed that an Aug. 8 operation in Bajaur resulted in the death of al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, aka Sheikh Said al-Masri. Some posters on jihadist message boards have denied the reports, but al Qaeda itself has yet to release a statement on the issue. Al-Yazid was reportedly al Qaeda’s operational commander for Afghanistan, and some reports also claim he was responsible for planning attacks within Pakistan, such as the June 2 attack on the Danish Embassy.
If confirmed, al-Yazid’s death came just 11 days after the July 28 missile strike in South Waziristan that resulted in the death of al Qaeda’s lead chemical and biological weapons expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri. The strike against al-Sayid also killed three other Egyptian al Qaeda commanders. In an ironic twist, the official al Qaeda eulogy for al-Sayid and his companions was given by al-Yazid.
Unconfirmed rumors also have swirled since the July 28 attack that al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri was either killed or seriously wounded in the same operation. An audiotape in which al-Zawahiri speaks out against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was recently released in an odd manner, in that it was given directly to a Pakistani news channel rather than via al Qaeda’s usual release pattern of having As-Sahab Media upload it directly to the Internet. The tape, in which al-Zawahiri speaks in English for the first time in a public pronouncement, is not convincing proof that al-Zawahiri was not wounded or killed. Obviously, al-Zawahiri’s loss would be another serious blow to the organization.