The U.S. military has become extremely proficient at finding their enemies and eliminating them. I'm proud to be an American.
By ALAN CULLISON
August 3, 2008 3:05 p.m.
KABUL -- In a blow to al Qaeda in Pakistan, the terror group confirmed Sunday that one of its top weapons researchers, Abu Khabab al-Masri, was killed, apparently in a U.S. missile strike last week.
For more than a decade, Mr. Masri moved in the top echelons of al Qaeda as a bomb-maker and innovator of the group's mostly feckless attempts to build viable chemical and biological weapons. While his expertise is replaceable, Mr. Masri's death further decimates the old guard of al Qaeda who were trusted by leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahri.
Al Qaeda confirmed Mr. Masri's death in a posting on Islamist Web sites Sunday, calling him an "expert" who had left behind a generation of students. He was rumored to have been killed in a missile strike on a village in Pakistan's northern tribal areas last week.
The timing of Mr. Masri's death in the attack coincided with a visit to the U.S. by Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is under pressure to do more to combat Islamists in Pakistan's border areas.
Mr. Masri, who carried a $5 million bounty on his head, was part of a well-educated Egyptian cadre in al Qaeda that has developed and directed some of the group's most spectacular terror attacks. Experts say he likely helped train the suicide bombers who attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, and assisted in the failed mission of Richard Reid, a British citizen, who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic airline flight with a bomb concealed in his shoe in 2001.
A chemist by training, Mr. Masri started in al Qaeda as a bomb-maker, but branched out into biological and chemical weapons development after the group settled in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There he was entrusted with part of al Qaeda's so-called "yogurt project" to develop weapons of mass destruction and operated a training camp in the village of Derunta. He tried unsuccessfully to develop an anthrax weapon, and with Dr. Zawahri tried to develop poisons that could kill more quickly by mixing them with chemicals that caused them to be absorbed into the skin quickly.
It's not clear how much of the research bore results, though U.S. authorities said Mr. Masri did gas some dogs at the Derunta training camp. U.S. authorities said he provided hundreds of Mujahidin with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives and distributed training manuals showing how to make chemical and biological weapons.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist and professor at Georgetown University, noted that one of Mr. Masri's students was Kamal Bourgass, who was convicted in 2005 of trying to spread ricin and other poisons on streets in the U.K. "He had his hands in a lot of different things," Mr. Hoffman said. "He was involved with projects that were approved at the highest levels."
In April, U.S. officials confirmed that another senior al Qaeda planner, Abu Obaidah al-Masri, alleged mastermind behind the 2005 London transportation bombings, died in Afghanistan last year of hepatitis.
"The old guard is being slowly diminished," Mr. Hoffman said. "You can replace some of them but what you can't replace is the trust and access to the leadership, which is important."