Notorious Egyptian scientist Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who had a $5 million American bounty on his head, was believed to have been in the village near the Afghanistan border when the airstrike hit, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.
Also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, he specialized in chemical and biological weapons and once conducted nerve gas tests on tethered dogs.
The three Pakistani security officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said the al Qaeda figures were believed to have been in Damadola village near the Afghan border at the time of Friday's attack but their bodies have not been recovered. The attack also killed 18 civilians.
The officials said the operatives included Umar, 52, who the U.S. Justice Department calls an explosives and poisons expert. The Egyptian also has distributed training manuals with recipes for chemical and biological weapons and trained hundreds of fighters at a terrorist camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad before the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
Umar is suspected of training the suicide bombers who killed 17 U.S. sailors in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, according to Mohamed Salah, a Cairo expert on Islamic extremists.
The Justice Department's Web site says the exact whereabouts of Umar, are unknown but that he may be living in Pakistan. It offers $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
According to the Pakistani officials, the other militants possibly killed included Abu Obaidah al-Masri, the al Qaeda chief responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, across the border from the strike site; and Abdul Rehman al-Maghribi, a Moroccan and relative of Ayman al-Zawahri, possibly his son-in-law.
One of the officials said al-Maghribi was involved in public relations for al Qaeda and helped distribute statements, CDs and videos publicizing the group. In particular, al-Maghribi had contacts with Arab journalists and kept them abreast of al Qaeda news, he said.
Some of the officials also said a fourth man, Khalid Habib, the al Qaeda operations chief along the Afghan-Pakistan border, was believed to be dead. The officials said Habib had planned assassination attacks on Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and is associated with Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a top al Qaeda figure arrested in northwestern Pakistan in May.
Pentagon officials said they had no information on the reported identities of the dead, and CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said the agency could not comment.
Martin reports that the 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.
Pakistani authorities previously said four or five foreign militants were killed in the airstrike, which officials say targeted — but missed — al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top aide. The strike has angered many in the Islamic country, prompting street protests over the weekend.
About 1,000 protesters also marched through the northwestern city of Peshawar on Thursday, chanting "Death to America" and "Jihad, Jihad."
Pakistan maintains it was not given advance word of the airstrike, which was reportedly carried out by unmanned Predator drones flying from Afghanistan, and has condemned the killing of innocent civilians.
Provincial authorities said al Qaeda sympathizers took the bodies of the foreign militants believed to have been killed to bury them in the mountains near the Afghan border, thereby preventing their identification.
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the bodies may have been taken by a local pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, who also is being hunted by authorities. Authorities believe he and another prominent pro-Taliban cleric survived the attack Friday.
Intelligence officials say al-Zawahri is thought to have sent some of his aides 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 that bodies or wounded could have been taken away in the darkness after the attack, which took place at 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.