October 31, 2008 -- The al Qaeda figure believed to be organizing a new terror attack against the United States is dead, a senior U.S. official tells ABCNews.com.
The official says the U.S. now has evidence that Khalid Habib was killed in an unmanned air strike two weeks ago in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan. Until now, there had been no official confirmation of reports of Habib's death from local militants in the area.
"He was the person responsible for planning and organizing attacks in the Pakistan and overseas, including the U.S.," the senior official said. "This was a really big deal that has not received much attention."
Considered the number four leader of al Qaeda, Habib was a long-time associate close to both Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Habib had been reported killed by Pakistani officials several times over the last few years, only to re-emerge at the center of what U.S. official say is the al Qaeda operational command.
The death of Habib is the most significant result of a controversial two-month long U.S. offensive in Pakistan employing CIA-controlled unmanned aircraft, known as Predators, equipped with powerful Hellfire missiles.
There have been more than a dozen Predator strikes in the last two months as the U.S. has sought to disrupt efforts by al Qaeda to organize new terror attacks from its safe haven locations inside Pakistan.
U.S. officials have detected advanced efforts in the Waziristan area by Habib and others to send terror teams to the U.S. and Europe. A number of suspected European and American recruits have been spotted in the area, officials have reported.
The U.S. and CIA officials will not confirm the role of the Predator missiles in the Pakistan attacks but their role is an open secret in Pakistan, where senior officials publicly complain about the strikes but privately agree to their necessity.
The Predators are based out of a secret location in the region but the final decision to pull the trigger is made at CIA headquarters by either CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden or a top deputy, according to former CIA officials.