Key Al Qaeda Figures Believed Slain

Among the senior al Qaeda operators believed to have been in the village near the Afghanistan border where an airstrike hit last week is notorious Egyptian scientist Abu Khabab al-Masri, who had a $5 million American reward on his head, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

Also known as Midhat Mursi, he specialized in chemical and biological weapons and once conducted nerve gas tests on tethered dogs.

The strike also may have killed al Qaeda's chief of operations for Afghanistan and Pakistan and another chief of operations for Afghanistan's Konar province.

A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to journalists, said authorities still did not know the names of the dead foreign militants but suspect one was a ranking al Qaeda figure.

"We have no names. We know one of them had value in al Qaeda. He had intelligence value in the network, but we are still checking his name," said the official.

However, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told AP the government does not know the identities of the foreigners believed killed in the missile strike Friday, which officials have said targeted Osama bin Laden's top aide, Ayman al-Zawahri.

"We are still investigating. There's a possibility that some foreigners were there, but we still do not know," said Sherpao, who was in New York with visiting Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Sherpao said the government had not retrieved the bodies of any of the four foreign militants reported killed in the raid. He said the bodies may have been taken by a local pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, who also is being hunted by authorities.

Martin reports that the reported deaths would not cause al Qaeda to collapse, but it would seriously damage the network's command structure. U.S. officials say al Qaeda command has been using the remote Pakistan frontier as a sanctuary from which to plan and launch operations.

Pakistan has recently sent its own army to clear foreign fighters out of the border area, but U.S. intelligence concluded the operations were making little headway. So, in recent weeks the CIA has opened a new campaign of airstrikes by unmanned drones whenever it gets reliable intelligence on the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders, Martin reports.

The U.S. government will not officially confirm these CIA airstrikes are even taking place, Martin added, and the Pakistani government files protests against them, even though they are conducted with Pakistani approval.


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.

"Efforts are under way to investigate further," said Shah Zaman Khan, director-general of media relations for Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

He said authorities were also looking for two prominent pro-Taliban clerics accused of harboring militants, Maulana Faqir Mohammed and Liaqat Ali, who were allegedly in Damadola and survived the assault.

Intelligence officials say the dead foreigners could be aides of al-Zawahri, who is thought to have sent them in his place to an Islamic holiday dinner to which he'd been invited in Damadola on the night of the attack.

Hours after the attack, an Associated Press reporter visited the village, which consists of a half-dozen widely scattered houses on a hillside about four miles from the Afghan border.

Residents said then that all the dead were local people and no one had taken any bodies away. However, it appeared feasible bodies or wounded could have been spirited away in the darkness after the attack, which took place about 3 a.m.

Islamic custom dictates that bodies be buried as soon as possible, and the reporter saw 13 freshly filled graves with simple headstones and five empty graves alongside them — apparently prepared for more dead. When the reporter returned the next day, the five empty graves were filled in, apparently because no more bodies had been found in the rubble.

The only tidbits of official information that have surfaced since then have come from provincial authorities, and they have yet to give a list of the dead. But Pakistani intelligence officials have said they believe some of those killed were Pakistani militants and that their bodies were also removed from the scene.

A Pakistani army official has told the AP that some bodies were taken away for DNA tests — information at odds with reports from provincial authorities. The federal government has not confirmed the report about DNA tests.

Pakistan maintains it was not given advance word of the airstrike, which was reportedly carried out by unmanned Predator drones flying from Afghanistan.

Thousands have taken to the streets in protest over the attack, denouncing the U.S. and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who ended Pakistan's support of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and has himself been targeted by al Qaeda attacks.

Nevertheless, allegations persist that Pakistan harbors dangerous Islamic militants.