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Official: Syrian Militant Slain in Pakistan Close to Al Qaeda's No. 2

A Syrian terrorist killed in northwestern Pakistan was a close aide of Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, a top minister said Sunday.

Marwan Hadid al-Suri, 38, was killed Thursday in a shootout in Bajur, a tribal region along the Afghan border. Al-Suri ran Al Qaeda operations there and was behind attacks on Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan, officials have said.

Al-Suri was "an important man" in Al Qaeda believed to have run a financial network for the terror group, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Sunday.

"Anyone handling finances in an organization is important," Ahmed told The Associated Press. "He was an important man and close to al-Zawahri."

Al-Suri had distributed money among terrorists and their families, including a relative of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a security official said Saturday on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media.

Bajur, where al-Suri died, also was the site of a January U.S. missile strike purportedly targeting al-Zawahri, who Afghan and Pakistan officials have said may be at large along the mountainous, porous Afghan-Pakistan frontier.

But al-Zawahri, the top deputy to Usama bin Laden, was not believed to have been at the site, where at least four Al Qaeda militants were killed, along with 13 villagers.

Al-Suri was the second major terrorism suspect reported killed in Pakistan this month. On April 12, Pakistani forces killed Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, 45, an Egyptian put on the FBI list for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Al-Suri's identity was confirmed by studying a laptop computer, a diary and documents found in his vehicle after the shootout, which also killed a Pakistani officer, officials said Saturday.

Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban militants and sympathizers as well as Al Qaeda fugitives in Bajur and the six other Afghan border-hugging tribal-dominated regions, including North Waziristan. Arab, Central Asian and Afghan fighters linked with Al Qaeda also are believed to be in the region.

Pakistani troops shot dead three unidentified armed men in a speeding van after its driver ignored orders to stop at a checkpoint near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, some 200 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad.

Armed men in the van also fired at the soldiers, killing one and wounding another, an intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak to the media.

It could not be determined if the gunmen were militants as many tribesmen in the area carry weapons.

On Saturday, Pakistani security forces fired artillery at a suspected militant hide-out in the village of Spelga, some nine miles south of Miran Shah, after extremists fired six rockets at a roadside security post, a security official said.

No Pakistani forces were hurt in the rocket attack.

Spelga residents fled the fighting, which included Pakistani helicopter gunships firing on suspected militant positions. Several homes were hit but no casualties were reported.

The fighting was the latest in a series of clashes between suspected Islamic militants and Pakistani troops in the area. On Thursday, militants killed seven soldiers and wounded 22 in an ambush near Spelga. Troops responded by killing five to eight militants.