ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - One of al-Qaida's top five leaders, said to be responsible for planning overseas strikes, was killed by Pakistani security forces in a rocket attack near the Afghan border with U.S. help, American and Pakistani officials said Saturday.
Hamza Rabia, a key associate of al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, died Thursday in an explosion in the North Waziristan tribal area, and his remains were identified with DNA tests, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.
"He was al-Qaida's No. 5, and this is what we know," Ahmed told The Associated Press.
Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the information's sensitivity, confirmed Rabia's death but would not elaborate on the circumstances.
The officials said Rabia was believed to be an Egyptian and head of al-Qaida's foreign operations, possibly as senior as the No. 3 official in the terrorist group. That would put him in a tier just below Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahri.
Rabia filled the vacuum created this year by the capture of the previous operations chief, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the two U.S. officials said.
As head of operations, Rabia would have been responsible for training, recruiting, networking and, most important, planning international terrorist activities outside the Afghan-Pakistan region.
One of the officials said Rabia also may have been involved in operations inside the region.
He had a wide array of jihadist contacts, the other official said, and was believed to be trying to reinvigorate al-Qaida's terrorist operations.
The circumstances of Rabia's death still were unclear.
NBC, citing anonymous officials, reported Saturday that the attack was launched by a U.S. drone. The Dawn, a leading daily English newspaper in Pakistan, also citing anonymous sources, reported that the attack on a mud-walled home near Miran Shah may have been launched from two pilotless planes.
Miran Shah is a strategic tribal region where remnants of al-Qaida are believed to have been hiding and where Pakistani forces have launched several operations against them.