A new audio recording released by al-Qaida’s As-Sahab Islamic Media Foundation suggests the terror group may have been suffering from financial difficulties.
In the recording, Mustafa al-Yazid, the group's No. 3 until his killing by a suspected CIA drone a few weeks ago, complained about fundraising shortfalls in the terrorist group and called for more donations from its supporter base.
Al-Yazid, who al-Qaida described as its top commander in Afghanistan, was killed along with his wife, three daughters, a grandchild and other men, women and children, al-Qaida announced on a website linked to the group two weeks ago.
On Sunday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a string of setbacks for al-Qaidas’ affiliate in Iraq has left that insurgent group “devastated” and struggling to cope with both a leadership vacuum and a money squeeze.
And Mike Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center said that the terror group is "under more pressure, is facing more challenges and is a more vulnerable organization than at any time" since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Al-Yazid, also known as Sheikh Sa'id, is the seventh person considered by U.S. intelligence to be the No. 3 leader who has been killed or captured since 2001.
Major blow to terror group
One U.S. official in Washington told the Associated Press that the death posed a major blow to al-Qaida, which in December 2009 “lost both its internal and external operations chiefs.”
However, Al-Yazid's death and al-Qaida’s financial and leadership setbacks may only pose short-term difficulties for the organization, according experts who spoke to the Associated Press.
"While we're having some success in putting pressure on them, they're also having a great deal of success radicalizing other parts of the global Islamic jihadist movement to join them in attacking the United States," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center and a former CIA officer.
U.S. officials said al-Qaida is becoming proficient at replacing its vulnerable No. 3 tier and has an effective recruiting base.
Prime conduit to bin Laden
But they also assert that the loss is severe setback for a group that has relied on al-Yazid as a founding member of al-Qaida and the group's prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was running al-Qaida's day-to-day operations, and also had a hand in the group's financing, according to U.S. officials.
"In some respects, Sheikh Sa'id's death is more important for al-Qaida operations than if bin Laden or Zawahiri was killed," said Roger Cressey, former deputy chief for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and now an NBC News consultant. "Any al-Qaida operation of any consequence would run through him."
However, the success of the drone strikes — the one that apparently killed al-Yazid was among dozens over the past year that have killed hundreds of insurgents — has made it harder for bin Laden and his lieutenants to operate and find safe haven.
Last Friday, officials reported that a volley of U.S. missiles killed 15 alleged militants in an extremist stronghold in northwestern Pakistan.
NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem contributed to this report.