Key Al Qaeda Bomb Maker Believed Slain

generic pakistan afganistan target bombing Egyptian chemist Midhat Mursi CBS/AP

U.S. sources believe that al Qaeda's alleged master weapons expert and bomb maker was killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

Fifty-two year old Egyptian chemist Midhat Mursi, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was reportedly identified by Pakistani authorities Wednesday. He is known for his chemical weapon expertise, strange alias and red beard.

Al Qaeda is "wedded to the spectacular," noted FBI counterterrorism analyst Donald Van Duyn in an Associated Press report last month, and Mursi was said to be exploring such possibilities when last seen, brewing up deadly compounds and gassing dogs in Afghanistan.

The FBI and other U.S. agencies posted a $5 million reward this year for Mursi's capture. Egypt's government reportedly seized and locked up his two sons in an effort to track down the father.

The U.S. reward poster says the alleged bomb maker, also known as Abu Khabab, may be in Pakistan. But "we don't think there's really a good fix on where he is," Van Duyn said.

"Nobody knows," said Mohamed Salah, a Cairo expert on Islamic extremists. "He could be in any country, under another ID. Or he could be on the Afghan-Pakistani border, with Zawahri."

The reward poster also says he operated a terrorist training camp in Derunta, Afghanistan, where he provided hundreds of students with poisons and explosives training. Mursi also allegedly proliferated training manuals that contain recipes for crude chemical and biological weapons.

Some of these training manuals were recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence agents hunted for the graves of four al Qaeda militants believed killed in an airstrike near the Afghan border — bodies that reportedly were whisked away by surviving comrades.

The purported U.S. missile attack on the village of Damadola, which Pakistani intelligence officials said targeted Osama bin Laden's top deputy, also claimed civilian lives, embarrassing Pakistan's government and straining ties with Washington.

The U.S. government refuses to discuss Friday's airstrike, which has been condemned by Pakistan and was expected to be discussed during an official visit to Washington this week by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Much about the attack and its aftermath remains clouded in confusion, including how many people died, where they were buried and by whom.

The White House Tuesday refused to confirm any U.S. connection to the attack on that Pakistani village, reports CBS News correspondent Peter Maer. It says it doesn't comment on operational matters.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, on the eve of a trip to Washington, said that despite the importance of ties with the United States, attacks inside Pakistan "cannot be condoned."

"Pakistan has committed to fighting terrorism, but naturally we cannot accept any action within our country which results in what happened over the weekend," Aziz said, referring to the missile strike Friday in the border village of Damadola.

Eighteen residents, including women and children, were also killed in the strike, the provincial government said Tuesday.

Provincial authorities say the attack killed 18 residents of the Pashtun village, and they also say they believe sympathizers took the bodies of four or five foreign militants to bury them in the mountains, thereby preventing their identification.

  • Scott Benjamin

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