Osama bin Laden is no doubt feeling that his days of hiding may soon be coming to an abrubt end. Watching his al Qaeda leadership getting picked off by predator drones day after day, almost at will, he almost certainly has to believe that it’s just a matter of time.
Hopes of capturing Osama bin Laden rose sharply among terrorist hunters in Pakistan last night as details emerged of the targeted weekend attacks by unmanned CIA Predator drones that killed Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of the 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.
Rauf, a British citizen linked to al-Qa’ida’s leadership, was killed when the compound where he was hiding in the heart of Pakistan’s tribal belt was bombarded by Hellfire missiles fired from the US drones, which are said to have killed at least four major militant operatives this month.
The targeted bungalow in Khaisoor, North Waziristan, belonged to Khaliq Noor, who locals say is not a Taliban figure but who rented it to the militants. The village is a Taliban stronghold – it was here that Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and Pakistan government officials signed the 2005 peace agreement that the Americans regard as a surrender to terrorism.
Rauf, who was hunted by US, British and Pakistani intelligence agencies, was being protected by al-Qa’ida, intelligence sources in Islamabad said last night.
It was reported that Pakistani intelligence had tracked him down and passed on the co-ordinates of where he was staying to the CIA. It is claimed he was killed in the strike, as well as Abu al-Asr Misri, an al-Qa’ida bomb maker and operations expert.
The CIA is said to be operating under new rules, approved by US President George W.Bush, that reduce the “confidence threshold” for “high value” targets believed to be in a target zone from 90 per cent likely to between 50 and 60 per cent before a strike can be ordered.
“I guess it’s a long way between saying, ‘Look, we’ve got Rauf and a bunch of other major al-Qa’ida and Taliban figures in the past two or three months’, and saying that if we can get them there’s no reason why we can’t get Bin Laden and (Ayman) al-Zawahiri – but that’s the way it’s shaping up,” a senior Western intelligence source in Islamabad said yesterday. “I guess that after this and all that’s happened in the past few weeks as a result of the drones, Osama’s sleeping a little less easily in his bed at night.”
Retired Pakistani general and defence analyst Talat Masood was quoted as saying that the killing of Rauf, if confirmed, “goes to show US intelligence is improving”. He said: “The effects of Pakistan’s protests against such strikes will be minimal if there is convincing proof the missiles strikes are hitting senior al-Qa’ida figures, which Pakistan has been unable to do.”
In a US drone attack beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas last week, and for the first time against a target in a so-called settled area, a Saudi militant, Abdullah Azan al-Saudi, was killed as the Hellfire missiles ripped into a compound where he was staying in the town of Bannu. Al-Saudi was the main operational link between the al-Qa’ida and Taliban leaderships.
Earlier in the month, an Egyptian identified as al-Qa’ida’s Abu Jihad al-Misri was killed in another US drone attack in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency.