| Pervez Musharraf in Kuwait. (AFP)
Islamabad, Dec. 3 (Reuters): An al Qaida commander ranked among the top five in Osama bin Laden’s network was killed in a tribal region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, President Pervez Musharraf said today.
Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian credited with heading al Qaida’s international operations, was among five militants killed in an explosion at a house where they were hiding in North Waziristan on Thursday.
Musharraf, arriving in Kuwait on an official visit, confirmed Rabia had been killed. “Yes indeed, 200 per cent. I think he was killed the day before yesterday if I’m not wrong,” Musharraf said.
While officials said the blast was caused by explosives stored in the house for bomb-making, residents said a helicopter fired rockets into the house at a village near Mir Ali in the tribal agency, just 30 km from Afghanistan where US forces are based.
Information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, also in Kuwait, denied Rabia was killed during a military operation. “He’s head of the international operations of al Qaida. He was very important in al Qaida. He was maybe Number Three or Five,” the minister said.
Rabia filled the gap left by the capture of Abu Faraj Farj al Liby last May, according to Ahmed. Al Liby was dubbed by the US as the network’s third-most important leader after bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.
“Had Rabia been apprehended alive he may even have led the authorities to bin Laden of Ayman al-Zawahri,” said Rohan Gunaratna, security analyst at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.
Gunaratna, author of Inside al Qaida, suspected bin Laden was also hiding in the Waziristan region, and if more resources were put into the hunt quickly, the al Qaida leader could be killed or captured.
Pakistani security agencies have been looking for Rabia for some time, Ahmed said, adding that he had been involved in two assassination attempts on Musharraf in December 2003.
Intelligence officials today said Rabia was using the alias “Nawab”, and they subsequently intercepted a message passed between militants saying Nawab was dead.
They said Rabia had escaped an attack by Pakistani security forces on November 5 in the same region but eight people, including his wife and children, were killed in that operation.
There were further incidents in North Waziristan yesterday.
A power utility manager was kidnapped along with two guards, by armed men. And later, guerrillas fired two rockets at an army camp in the town of Miranshah, but there were no reports of casualties.