WASHINGTON (AFP) -Following the death or capture of many top Al-Qaeda operatives in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a new generation of the group’s leaders has emerged in Pakistan’s tribal areas, The New York Times reported on its website.
Citing unnamed US intelligence and counterterrorism officials, the newspaper said the phenomenon was causing surprise and dismay within United States intelligence agencies.
US, European and Pakistani authorities have for months been piecing together a picture of the new leadership as they gathered evidence during terrorism investigations, the report said late Sunday.
New information about Al-Qaeda’s structure came through intercepted communications between operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the paper said.
Also important have been interrogations of suspects and material evidence collected after a plot British and US investigators said they averted last summer to destroy multiple commercial airliners after takeoff from London, according to The Times.
The investigation into the airline plot has led officials to conclude that an Egyptian paramilitary commander called Abu Ubaidah al-Masri was the Al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan orchestrating the attack, the report said.
Masri, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan, is believed to travel frequently over the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to The Times.
He was long thought to be in charge of militia operations in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, but he emerged as one of Al-Qaeda’s senior operatives after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian who was killed by a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.
The evidence about Masri and a handful of other Qaeda figures has led to a reassessment within the US intelligence community about the strength of the group’s core in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and its role in some of the most significant terrorism plots of the past two years, the paper said.
US intelligence officials now believe that although the core Al-Qaeda leadership was weakened as a result of a counterterrorism campaign launched after the September 11 attacks, the blow was not as crippling as once thought, The Times said.
The reassessment has brought new urgency to joint Pakistani and US intelligence operations in Pakistan.
In February, Deputy CIA Director Stephen Kappes accompanied Vice President Dick Cheney to Islamabad to present Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with intelligence on Al-Qaeda’s growing abilities and to develop a strategy to strike at training camps.