Al Qaeda’s second-in-command was killed in the Waziristan region of Pakistan on Aug. 22 by an unmanned drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, American and Pakistani officials announced on Saturday.
A Pakistani government official said that the United States had told Pakistan’s government that Atiyah Abd al-Rahman had been the target of the drone strike only after the CIA confirmed that he was dead, the New York Times reports.
Al-Rahman, a Libyan, became al Qaeda’s second-ranking leader after Osama bin Laden was killed, and Ayman al-Zawahiri took over the terrorist organization. In the past year, al-Rahman had assumed the role of operations chief for the group, Bloomberg News reports, functioning as a liaison between al-Qaeda affiliates and bin Laden and Zawahiri.
His death is a major blow to the organization, officials said.
"Zawahiri needed Atiyah's experience and connections to help manage al-Qaida," a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
According to the New York Times:
American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of Qaeda leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.
Al-Rahman has been believed to be dead before, the AP reports. Last year, there were reports that al-Rahman was killed in a drone strike, but they were never confirmed. This time, the officials who confirmed the death Saturday said it represented the consensus opinion of the U.S. government.
According to a biography posted on the U.S. State Department website, al-Rahman joined bin Laden as a teenager in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union.
The man who held al-Rahman’s job before him, an older Egyptian Qaeda leader named Sheikh Saeed al Masri, was also killed by a CIA missile, as were several operations officers before him, the New York Times reports. According to the New York Times:
The job has proved to be particularly deadly, American officials said, because the operations chief has had to transmit the guidance of Bin Laden and Mr. Zawahiri to Qaeda operatives elsewhere, providing a way for the Americans to track him through electronic intercepts.