NBC News
updated 3/17/2010 5:11:49 PM ET 2010-03-17T21:11:49

A missile strike in Pakistan last week killed a top al-Qaida leader believed to have been a key player in the suicide attack that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told NBC News Wednesday.

According to officials, Hussein al-Yemeni was a "top al-Qaida planner, facilitator and bomb maker."

The Hellfire missile strike took place in a "densely populated area" of Miram Shah in North Waziristan, Pakistan, the location of a bomb-making facility.

U.S. officials also report that besides his al-Qaida connections, al-Yemeni was tied to the Haqqani Taliban network out of Afghanistan, but was headquartered across the border in Pakistan.

In the Khost attack on Dec. 30, a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees — four officers and three contracted security guards — and a Jordanian intelligence officer. It was the worst CIA loss of life since the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombings, when eight CIA officers were killed.

Increased attacks
The report of al-Yemeni's killing is yet another indicator of a dramatically increased tempo of Predator attacks on suspected al-Qaida and Taliban encampments in the tribal areas of western Pakistan.

The tempo has been driven in part by the CIA's desire to avenge the deaths of its officers in Khost. 

The number of attacks since January, many in direct retaliation for the Khost attack, has now reached 20, officials say. That's already half the number carried out all of last year. Rather than focus on top leadership, say U.S officials, the latest wave of attacks is focusing on training camps, bomb-making facilities and safe houses.

List of al-Qaida leaders killed
The U.S. believes the attacks are having a qualitative effect on al-Qaida. A list of those killed in Predator attacks in the past two years was provided to NBC News.

The list includes a number of top officials, if not the most senior and best known al-Qaida leaders:

  • Khalid Habib (veteran combat leader and operations chief involved with plots to attack the West; deputy to Shaikh Sa'id al-Masri, al-Qaeda's #3).
  • Rashid Rauf (mastermind of the 2006 transatlantic airliner plot).
  • Abu Khabab al-Masri (al-Qaeda's most seasoned explosives expert and trainer, and the man responsible for its chemical and biological weapons efforts).
  • Abdallah Azzam (senior aide to Sheikh Sa'id al-Masri).
  • Abu al-Hassan al-Rimi (led cross-border operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan).
  • Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziri (senior external operations planner and facilitator).
  • Abu Jihad al-Masri (senior operational planner and propagandist).
  • Usama al-Kini (Marriott attack planner and listed on the FBI's terrorist most wanted list).
  • Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (involved in the attacks on the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania).
  • Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziri (senior trainer and external operations plotter).
  • Baitullah Mehsud (leader of the Pakistani Taliban).
  • Yahyo (leader of the Islamic Jihad Union of Uzbekistan).
  • Saleh al-Somali (senior al-Qaeda external operations planner).
  • Abdullah Said (al-Qaeda's chief of internal operations).

It's not a typo that two Abu Sulaiman al-Jaziris are on the list. "There were two, and now there aren't," said a U.S. counterterrorism official.

Beyond that list, the U.S. believes it killed Hakimullah Mehsud, who succeeded his brother as head of the Pakistan Taliban and was featured in the Jordanian bomber's martyrdom video.

The attacks in which he was targeted took place two months ago, and he has not been heard from since.

NBC News' Robert Windrem and Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report.

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