U.S. and Pakistani officials said Saturday that al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the U.S. believes to be on the verge of defeat.
Since Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound and killed him in May, the Obama administration has been unusually frank in its assessment that al-Qaida is on the ropes, its leadership in disarray. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that al-Qaida’s defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks.
“Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them,” Panetta said, “because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a major threat.”
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to summarize the government’s intelligence on al-Rahman, said al-Rahman’s death will make it harder for Zawahiri to oversee what is considered an increasingly weakened organization.
“Zawahiri needed Atiyah’s experience and connections to help manage al-Qaida,” the official said.
Al-Rahman was killed Aug. 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to a senior administration who also insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues.
A Pakistani intelligence official said al-Rahman died in a U.S. missile strike in Machi Khel village in North Waziristan on Aug. 22.
Justice served cold.