Jan. 13, 2006 — -- Today, according to Pakistani military sources, U.S. aircraft attacked a compound known to be frequented by high-level al Qaeda operatives. Pakistani officials tell ABC News that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, may have been among them.
U.S. intelligence for the last few days indicated that Zawahiri might have been in the location or about to arrive, although there is still no confirmation from U.S. officials that he was among the victims.
The attack took place early this morning Pakistan time in a small village a few miles from the border with Afghanistan.
Villagers described seeing an unmanned plane circling the area for the last few days and then bombs falling in the early morning darkness.
Eighteen people were killed, according to the villagers, who said women and children were among the fatalities.
But Pakistani officials tell ABC News that five of those killed were high-level al Qaeda figures, and their bodies are now undergoing forensic tests for positive identification.
Officials say Zawahiri was known to have used safe houses in this area last winter and was believed to be in the area again this winter.
Zawahiri, who appeared just last week in a new videotaped message, had increasingly been taking the operational reins of al Qaeda, and is thought by U.S. officials to be the current true mastermind of the terrorist group.
Pakistani officials tell ABC News that the bodies of the five suspected al Qaeda figures will be recovered at first light in Pakistan, but it will still take a day or two for any kind of positive identification. U.S. officials in Washington did not comment.