A U.S. strike has killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the second-in-command of Al Qaeda and its "operational leader," the Associated Press reported Saturday afternoon. The report, which cites an anonymous U.S. official, says al-Rahman was killed in Waziristan, Pakistan, on Aug. 22, the same day that a missile from a U.S. drone struck Waziristan.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in July that "al-Qaida's defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks on the group's weakened leadership," the AP noted. More from the AP:
"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-Qaida as a major threat."
Al-Rahman was killed Aug. 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to the official said, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues.
The official would not say how al-Rahman was killed. But his death came on the same day that a CIA drone strike was reported in Waziristan. Such strikes by unmanned aircraft are Washington's weapon of choice for killing terrorists in the mountainous, hard-to-reach area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Al-Rahman, believed to be in his mid-30s, was a close confidant of bin Laden and once served as bin Laden's emissary to Iran.
There have been false alarms before about al-Rahman's demise. But this report suggests confirmation that one of the lieutenants who was elevated to the forefront of Al Qaeda by the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden has been eliminated.
Here's the entry for al-Rahman in a profile of the terrorist group's new leadership by The Washington Post. Interesting anecdotes abound, including al-Rahman scolding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for squabbling with the group's leadership, and this story of a terrorist recoiling at the taste of his own medicine.
Now 38, Rahman joined al-Qaeda in the early 1990s and fought in Afghanistan. In 1993, he moved to Algeria to serve as a liaison between al-Qaeda and Algerian radicals fighting a civil war against the military government in that North African nation.
Instead of welcoming him, an Algerian rebel network, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), placed Rahman under detention and threatened to execute him for reasons that remain unclear. He and a handful of other Libyan prisoners escaped after five months and fled the country, said Noman Benotman, a Libyan political exile who lives in London and is familiar with the episode.
"He had a very bad experience, and I think is still having nightmares about it," Benotman said.
Afterward, Benotman added, Rahman dropped out of Islamic militant circles for a few years and occasionally wrote papers that criticized their infighting.