Washington, Apr 10 : US counter-terrorism officials have claimed that al-Qaeda operative Abu Obaidah al-Masri who is said to be the key man behind the 2005 subway and bus bombings in London and the plot to blow up airliners, has died somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
He guided Rashid Rauf, a British national arrested by Pakistan in connection with the plot to blow up airlines in August 2006. Rauf mysteriously escaped from police custody in December last year. al-Masri and Ayman al-Zawahiri both frequented a religious school destroyed in an airstrike in October 2006 in Pakistan's tribal areas with the loss of around 80 lives, though they were not there at the time.
On the condition of anonymity, the US officials said that al-Masri operated from the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border and that is where he is presumed to have died.
"We have reason to believe that Abu Obaidah al-Masri is dead," The News quoted the official as saying.
Another official said he died of hepatitis, probably a couple of months ago. According to him, al-Masri was a senior al-Qaeda operative involved in planning, recruiting and training militants for attacks in Europe.
The US officials said that he trained British Muslims for the July 2005 subway and bus bombings in London, which killed 52 people, and a plot the following year to blow up commercial airliners over the Atlantic.
"He was one of the operational guys. It's hard to tell exactly where the lines of leadership in this stuff falls out. Certainly ... he was integral and had been involved in the planning and the plotting," said one of the officials.
He reportedly served as a paramilitary commander in eastern Afghanistan and rose within al-Qaeda after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian, in a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.
Meanwhile, according to the paper, Pakistani security officials said that they had received intelligence reports from sources in the tribal areas that al-Masri was severely ill with hepatitis in recent months.