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Al-Qaida militant believed to be killed by U.S. drone in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An al-Qaida leader sought in the 2008 Mumbai siege and rumored to be a long-shot choice to succeed Osama bin Laden was believed killed in a U.S. drone attack as he met with other militants in an apple orchard in Pakistan.

The purported death of Ilyas Kashmiri — who also was accused of killing many Pakistanis — could help soothe U.S.-Pakistan ties that nearly unraveled after the May 2 bin Laden raid. While it was unclear how Kashmiri was tracked, his name was on a list of militants that both countries recently agreed to jointly target as part of measures to restore trust, the Associated Press reported, citing unnamed intelligence officials.

It also would be a major victory for U.S. intelligence, particularly the controversial CIA-run drone program, which began in 2005 but has been increasingly criticized by the Pakistanis amid rising anti-American sentiment in the country.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington, Islamabad and Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, said they could not confirm that Kashmiri was killed. Pakistani officials also said they couldn't confirm it.

A fax purportedly sent by the militant group he was heading — Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami's feared "313 Brigade" — said Kashmiri was "martyred" in Friday's 11:15 p.m. strike. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.

Described by American officials as al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, the 47-year-old Pakistani was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused of a string of bloody attacks in Pakistan and India as well as aiding plots in the West. He was named a defendant in an American court over a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in 2005.

Washington had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his location.

The AP said it was told by a Pakistani intelligence officer that Kashmiri was believed killed along with eight other militants in a drone strike Friday close to Wana town in South Waziristan, not far from the Afghan border.

Al-Qaida militant believed to be killed by U.S. drone in Pakistan 06/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 5, 2011 12:15am]

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