By Salah Nasrawi
CAIRO, Egypt – A veteran al-Qaida fighter was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan, the first reported death of an established figure from Osama bin Laden’s terror network in the nearly two-week bombardment, a London-based Islamic group said Thursday.
The Egyptian militant, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Baseer al-Masri, was killed by a U.S. bomb Sunday near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, the Islamic Observation Center said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press.
The center said two of his comrades, a Chinese Muslim and a Yemeni, were injured. No details were given.
Al-Masri was a longtime member of the Egyptian radical group al-Gamaa al-Islamiya and had been in Afghanistan for at least 10 years, much of the time in al-Qaida camps, according to former fighters in Afghanistan. He was reportedly close to bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, also an Egyptian. There was no way immediately to confirm the report of al-Masri’s death.
The Islamic Observation Center acts as a public relations outfit for Islamic fundamentalist groups and has passed along statements for them in the past. It has been regularly reporting war news from Afghanistan since U.S. strikes began Oct. 7.
Its director, Yasser al-Sirri, is believed to have contacts among suspected Muslim militants around the world. Egypt says al-Sirri is a former military chief of Islamic Jihad, another radical group, and sentenced him to death in absentia in 1994 for alleged involvement in an assassination attempt on the then-prime minister. He denies the charges.
The center on Thursday also relayed a statement from Mohammed Atef, the military commander and the No. 3 leader of al-Qaida, warning that U.S. troops will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan they did in Somalia, where bodies of slain soldiers were dragged through the streets.
Al-Sirri said Atef made the brief statement in Afghanistan. He refused to say how it came into the hands of the center.
“America will not realize its miscalculations until its soldiers are dragged in Afghanistan like they were in Somalia,” Atef, an Egyptian, was quoted as saying.
In October 1993, guerillas reportedly trained by bin Laden shot down two U.S. helicopters over Mogadishu, Somalia, killing 18 soldiers who were trying to capture a Somali warlord. Jeering mobs then dragged the bodies of some of the soldiers through the streets.
The incident prompted the United States to pull out of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia.
According to evidence released by the British government, Atef traveled to Somalia several times in 1992 and 1993 to organize violence against U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping troops. On each occasion he reported back to bin Laden, who was based at the time in Khartoum, Sudan.
Other intelligence reports suggested that he also supervised the slaying and dragging of the bodies of the American soldiers in Mogadishu.
Atef, whose daughter in married to bin Laden’s son, is believed to be a former police officer. His association with bin Laden started in the early 1980s when he helped him recruit fighters for the Afghan war with the Soviet occupation forces. He is now principally responsible for training al-Qaida members in terrorism.
In October 1999, the FBI charged Atef and other al-Qaida members in a conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals. The FBI’s indictment pointed to the Aug. 7 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as being part of the conspiracy.
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