WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani helicopter gunships staged a predawn raid on a militant hideout on Saturday and shot dead a top al-Qaeda operative wanted for plotting to bomb the New York subway system, the military said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Saudi national Adnan el-Shukrijumah, 39, who it said was believed to be al-Qaeda’s external operations chief at one time.
Shukrijumah, who had a Guyanese passport, was the most senior al-Qaeda member ever killed by the Pakistani military.
“In an intelligence borne operation, top al-Qaeda leader Adnan el Shukrijumah was killed by (the) Pakistan Army in an early morning raid in Shinwarsak, South Waziristan today,” the military statement said. The remote region borders Afghanistan.
“His accomplice and local facilitator were also killed in the raid,” the statement said.
The military said Shukrijumah had recently been forced to move by a Pakistani military operation in neighbouring North Waziristan.
The region was the Taliban’s key stronghold in Pakistan and a hotbed of militancy until the military launched an offensive to retake the territory on June 15.
In Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, all phone lines and mobile phone signals were shut down overnight and the roads were blocked, a Reuters reporter there said.
Residents awoke just before dawn to the thudding of helicopter gunships and the growl of convoys of military vehicles approaching from several directions.
The vehicles headed to a small house in a neighbourhood residents said was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban. The house had been used to shelter Afghan Taliban for years.
An Afghan neighbour said an Arab man had moved into the house nearly two months ago. The man only moved around at night and residents never saw him, he said.
One military official said security forces had first heard Chinese hostages were held there and planned a large operation when they learned it was Shukrijumah. “Thousands” of soldiers were involved in the operation, the official said.
Two intelligence officers said the militants opened fire on the Pakistani military and Shukrijumah, whom one described as “an Arab national,” was killed in the ensuing gun battle. One soldier was killed and another wounded, the military said.
A military official said five other militants were taken into custody during the raid, but intelligence officials said they were Shukrijumah’s wife and four children.
Shukrijumah is wanted in the United States for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and to commit murder in a foreign country.
“The charges reveal that the plot against New York City’s subway system, uncovered in September of 2009, was directed by senior Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” the FBI website said.
Prosecutors described the plot at the time as the most serious threat to New York since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Shukrijumah was also linked by U.S. authorities to other suspects, including a group accused of planning to bomb fuel pipelines at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Tom Heneghan