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4 Top Qaeda Operatives Believed Dead

This image provided by the FBI shows Midhat Mursi al-Sayid. The U.S. Justice Department names Midhat Mursi al-Sayid as an explosives expert and poisons trainer who operated a terrorist training camp at Derunta, near the eastern city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
AP Photo/FBI
An al Qaeda explosives and chemical weapons expert and a relative of the terror network's No. 2 leader were among four top operatives believed killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan last week, Pakistani security officials said Thursday.

Pakistani agents continued their hunt for two pro-Taliban clerics who dined with the operatives the night of the airstrike, hoping to glean new details about the attack and who was killed.

The authorities have said four or five foreign militants died in last Friday's attack in Damadola, a village near the Afghan border. Officials say the airstrike targeted, but missed, al Qaeda No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also killed 18 local people, outraging many in this Islamic country.

The security officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, named four al Qaeda figures thought to have been in the village at the time of the attack, saying that their bodies were believed to have been taken away by sympathizers.

They included Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar 52, an Egyptian, cited by the U.S. Justice Department as an explosives expert and poisons instructor who trained hundreds of mujahedeen at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan near the eastern city of Jalalabad before the ouster of hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.

The officials say Faqir Mohammed and Liaqat Ali were likely responsible for burying, and concealing, the bodies.

Mohammed reportedly returned near the scene of the attack in Pakistan's tribal region two days later to lead an anti-U.S. protest.

"The government is actively hunting for them," said a senior government official with high-level access to information on the Damadola attack.

"Once we have them in custody, more will definitely be revealed" about that night, said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

The U.S. Justice Department's Web site says that the exact whereabouts of Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, are unknown but that he may be residing in Pakistan, and offers US$5 million for information leading to his arrest. It says that since 1999, Umar has distributed training manuals with recipes for crude chemical and biological weapons.

According to experts on Islamic extremists, Umar is believed to have trained the suicide bombers who killed 17 U.S. sailors on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

According to the officials, among the other foreigners possibly killed were Abu Obaidah al-Masri, the al Qaeda chief responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan who was based in Kunar province, across the border from the strike site; and Abdul Rehman al-Maghribi, a Moroccan and relative of al-Zawahiri, possibly his son-in-law.