Two top al Qaeda officials are believed dead following a New Year's Day drone attack in northern Pakistan, ABC News has confirmed. U.S. officials said Fahid Mohammed Ali Msalam and Sheikh Ahmed Salem Swedan, both on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list, were killed in the CIA strike.
Msalam, who also went by the alias Usama al-Kini, and Swedan were both from Kenya and were indicted in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and for conspiring to kill U.S. citizens.
"It's amazing that it took 10 years to get these guys when they were on the FBI most wanted list all of this time," said former national security advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said that they believed the al Qaeda leaders were running operations for the terrorist group in Pakistan.
"Hopefully this provides some sense of justice for the 1998 bombings," one official told ABC News.
The U.S. Department of State had offered rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture or conviction of each of them.
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer and ABC News consultant, described Msalam as "probably the single most prominent African member of al Qaeda" and a leader who known as a "logistics whiz."
"He was very important in al Qaeda's ability to coordinate and plan very complicated terrorist operations," said Kiriakou, adding that the U.S. government had been looking for him "for a very long time."
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said in statement late Thursday that Msalam was believed to be the operations chief for al Qaeda in Pakistan. While he could not confirm Msalam's alleged involvement in the September 2008 attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, he said U.S. offficials reported Msalam was involved in attacks in Pakistan over the last year.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
A senior U.S. official briefed on the matter confirms that Msalam and Swedan were both involved in the September 2008 attack on the Marriott hotel. Officials also believe the men were behind the assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto before she was ultimately killed.
The men have been involved in training many operatives in recent years across East Africa and Afghanistan, according to the official, and have been responsible for killing hundred of innocent civilians.
Earlier this week, Osama bin Laden's top deputy in al Qaeda released a new tape in which he threatens the United States and vows revenge for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.
"We will never stop until we avenge the death of all who are killed, injured, widowed and orphaned in Palestine and throughout the Islamic world," said Ayman al-Zawahiri in a new 10-minute audio recording released today on extreme Islamist Web forums.
The message is entitled "The Massacre in Gaza and the Siege of the Traitors."
Zawahiri refers directly to President-elect Barack Obama saying he has partnered with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom Zawahiri labels as a traitor to Islam.
"What you are facing today is just occupation and settlement that is limited to one area or one country, but is part of a series in the Crusaders war against Islam," says Zawahiri. "These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office, and from Hosni Mubarak, the traitor who is the primary partner in your siege and murder."
To the Palestinians he says: "Be strong and persist in the way of Jihad. The whole Muslim ummah is united with you."
He also vows to carry out al Qaeda's repeated threat that the United States will not live in peace until Palestine does.
"We are at work to carry out the promise of our fighting sheikh Osama Bin Laden (may Allah protect him) who promised that America will not live in peace in their dreams before we live in peace in Palestine, and until all the forces of the infidels leave the lands of Muhammed," Zawahiri says.