Al Qaeda Operations Planner Saleh Al-Somali Believed Dead in Drone Strike

The senior al Qaeda operative killed in a drone strike in Pakistan earlier this week was Saleh al-Somali, a major operations planner for the terrorist group, ABC News has learned.

"There are strong indications that senior al Qaeda operations planner Saleh al-Somali has died," a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

Al-Somali was believed killed in a drone strike Tuesday that likely was part of the CIA's continuing program that uses armed Predator drones to target al Qaeda terrorists operating along the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan that border Afghanistan.

Questions Over Who Was Killed in Drone Strike

Since Tuesday's attack in Pakistan's northern Waziristan region, speculation had run rampant that a senior al Qaeda operative had been killed in the attack.

U.S. officials indicated that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were not the victims of the attack, fueling more speculation as to the identity of the high level operative.

According to the U.S. official, Saleh al-Somali was responsible for al Qaeda's operations outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and formed part of al Qaeda's senior leadership circle. He is also said to have had "connections with other Pakistan-based extremists."

Al-Somali was engaged in plotting terrorist acts around the world and "given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe," the official said.

Al-Somali took operations guidance from senior al Qaeda leaders and "translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks," the official added.

Saleh al-Somali Rose Through Al Qaeda Ranks

Al-Somali had risen through the ranks of al Qaeda's propaganda operations to become involved in operations planning for the terrorist group. That included working with western al Qaeda recruits upon their arrival into the tribal of areas of Pakistan, the U.S. official said.

The official said that given his ties to the region, al-Somali maintained a relationship with al Qaeda's allies in eastern Africa, particularly the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

The group has been the focal point of U.S. investigations into the recruitment of Somali-Americans for Jihadist activities in East Africa.

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