MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Pieces of shrapnel that appeared to be from an American missile were discovered Sunday at the house where Pakistan said a top Al Qaeda operative was killed in an explosion.
U.S. officials have refused to give details of the attack on the house where Hamza Rabia reportedly died, but they have told FOX News that it was a joint operation involving U.S. and Pakistani resources.
Local residents found at least two pieces of shrapnel at the blast scene inscribed with the designation of the Hellfire missile, which is carried by the U.S. Air Force's unmanned, remote-controlled Predator aircraft.
The metal pieces bore the designator "AGM-114," the words "guided missile" and the initials "US."
John Pike, director of the defense Web site GlobalSecurity.org, said the Hellfire is used almost exclusively by the U.S. military. Al Qaeda operatives would be unlikely to have Hellfire missiles, Pike said, although he said the possibility could not be completely discounted.
A man who lives near the house said he heard at least two detonations and saw a white streak of light before a missile hit the house, sparking a huge explosion.
"I ran to my home fearing it may hit me," said Mohammed Nasir, adding that residents were unaware that foreigners were living in their neighborhood.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, said Saturday that Rabia died in a huge explosion set off by a missile attack.
Several sources have told FOX News the U.S. intelligence community is confident Rabia was killed in the attack.
Rabia was involved in planning two assassination plots against Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and "we believe he was involved in planning for attacks against the United States," Hadley said.
Musharraf said Saturday it was "200 percent confirmed" that Rabia was killed.
The senior Pakistani intelligence official said the missile attack blew up a stockpile of bomb-making materials, grenades and other munitions. Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Rabia's two Syrian bodyguards also died in the explosion.
Pakistani officials said Rabia's death was confirmed by DNA tests. But the Dawn newspaper, citing officials it did not identify, said Saturday his body had been retrieved by associates from outside Pakistan. Dawn also cited unnamed sources saying the attack may have been launched from two pilotless planes.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed declined to comment on the report about Rabia's remains but said there was "other information" besides the DNA tests that confirmed his identity.
"He was a high-profile commander in the network. We were tracing him for the last two years," Sherpao told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Naturally any person killed in their hierarchy is a big blow for them."
Two U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said Rabia was believed to be an Egyptian and head of Al Qaeda's foreign operations, possibly as senior as the No. 3 in the terrorist group, just below Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Rabia's death would not enhance the prospect of catching either bin Laden or Zawahiri, according to another Pakistani intelligence official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job. The official said intelligence agents had no clue about the whereabouts of bin Laden or Zawahiri.
Rabia filled the vacuum created this year by the capture of the previous operations chief, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the two U.S. officials said.
Rabia would have been responsible for training, recruiting, networking and, most importantly, planning international terrorist activities outside the Afghan-Pakistan region. He had a wide array of jihadist contacts, one official said, and was believed to be trying to reinvigorate Al Qaeda's operations.
One Pakistani intelligence official said Rabia had been the target of a Nov. 5 attack in the same area that killed eight people, but he managed to escape. That attack initially was blamed on militants setting off bombs they were making.
Miran Shah is a strategic tribal region where Al Qaeda militants are believed to be hiding and where Pakistani forces have launched several operations against them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.