ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani forces killed an Egyptian Al Qaeda terrorist wanted by the United States over the 1998 American Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, a Cabinet minister said Thursday.
Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, 45, was killed late Wednesday in a Pakistani military raid led by helicopter gunships on a hideout in the remote North Waziristan village of Naghar Kalai, near the Afghan border, the minister said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Another senior Pakistani intelligence official said military reports from the field indicated that Atwah had been killed in the attack, in which at least six other militants and two children were believed killed. The intelligence official also declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case.
Neither official specified how they knew Atwah had been killed. Officials and village residents said earlier that armed men took the bodies away after the attack.
U.S. authorities had posted a $5 million bounty for Atwah, who is accused of involvement in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 12 Americans and more than 200 Africans.
Neither FBI officials in Washington nor U.S. or Egyptian diplomats in Islamabad were able to confirm that Atwah had been killed.
Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, has long been battling Islamic militants operating along the volatile, porous Pakistan-Afghan border region. Attacks by Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants have intensified in recent months, but it was not immediately clear what role, if any, Atwah may have played in the insurgency.
An intelligence official in Miran Shah, the main town in the volatile North Waziristan region that hugs the Afghan border, said Wednesday's raid killed nine people in all — seven militants, including five non-Pakistanis, and two young brothers who lived in the house, ages 2 years and 2 months.
"This attack was launched on the basis of intelligence showing that he [Atwah] might be hiding there," an Islamabad-based counterterrorism official said.
Residents in Naghar Kalai said they heard at least one loud explosion followed by intense machine-gun fire focusing on a house in which a group of men from "outside the village" had been staying.
The building, situated near an Islamic school, was destroyed, and three cars were blown up.
"There was a huge explosion, which we think was a missile attack, before the helicopters came and bombed the house," said village tribal elder Khan Wazir. "When we came to the house there was dust and other people who were already trying to pull out bodies and sift through the rubble."
After the attack, a group of armed men surrounded the crumpled house to keep onlookers back before taking at least seven bodies away, Wazir said.
"We had information about the presence of foreign militants," said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the top Pakistan army spokesman. "It was a sting operation and the target was knocked out."
Sultan said Al Qaeda members are moving in small groups and mixing with locals in North Waziristan, which has witnessed a spike in militant activity in recent months with almost daily attacks on Pakistani security forces based in the area.
"The people [behind the attacks] are certainly the Al Qaeda people," Sultan told Associated Television Press News. "They are the ones who are financing and they do have some local facilitators."
Pakistani security officials have previously said Usama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other top Al Qaeda figures could be hiding in the Pakistan-Afghan border region.
Some 80,000 Pakistani troops are deployed along the Afghan border in a bid to catch Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., Pakistan has arrested more than 750 Al Qaeda suspects, including senior leaders of the terror network.