MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - A senior al Qaeda leader, Shaikh al-Fateh, is believed to have been killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in a Pakistani tribal region on the Afghan border this week, intelligence officials said on Tuesday.
Al-Fateh was travelling through North Waziristan, a region known as a hotbed of al Qaeda and Taliban militants, when his vehicle was hit by a missile on September 26, an intelligence official said.
“Four Arabs were travelling in that vehicle and Shaikh al-Fateh was one of them,” the official said only identifying him as an “important al Qaeda” leader.
According to LongWarJournal.org, which tracks militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Fateh -- also possibly known as Shaikh Fateh al-Masri -- is the operational commander for al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, having taken over from Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who was killed in a drone attack in May 2010.
Many al Qaeda members and Taliban fled to northwestern Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun belt after U.S.-led soldiers ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban government in 2001.
From their sanctuaries there, the militants have orchestrated insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The United States has stepped up pilotless drone aircraft attacks on suspected militant hideouts in the Pakistani tribal region in recent months, at least 20 in September alone.
U.S. officials say drones are valuable weapons which have killed high-profile Taliban and al Qaeda figures in an area in northwest Pakistan described as a global hub for militants. in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Most of the recent strikes took place in North Waziristan, the only one of seven Pakistani tribal regions where the army has not yet launched any big operation against the militants, despite U.S. pressure to do so.
Reporting by Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sugita Katyal