The head of  al Qaeda in Pakistan was killed last week, Joby Warrick reports on page 1 of today’s WaPo.

A New Year’s Day CIA strike in northern Pakistan killed two top al-Qaeda members long sought by the United States, including the man believed to be behind September’s deadly suicide bombing at a Marriott hotel in the Pakistani capital

, U.S. counterterrorism officials confirmed yesterday.

Agency officials ascertained this week that Usama al-Kini, a Kenyan national who was described as al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan, was killed in the Jan. 1 missile strike, along with his lieutenant, identified as Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, the sources said. Both men were associated with a string of suicide attacks in Pakistan in recent months and also allegedly helped plan the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Kini, who had been pursued by U.S. law enforcement agencies on two continents for a decade, was the eighth senior al-Qaeda leader killed in clandestine CIA strikes since July, the officials said. He and Swedan were ranked among the 23 most-wanted terrorists by the FBI, with a bounty offering of $5 million for their capture.

After seven years of people described as “the number three al Qaeda official” or the like being killed, seemingly without impact on the group’s operations, it’s easy to be cynical about these reports.  Recall, however, the words of CIA director Michael Hayden in his talk at the Atlantic Council two months ago: “Today, virtually every major terrorist threat that my agency is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas.”  This is a major development, indeed. 

That’s not to say that Pakistan-based terrorism or al Qaeda are in their death throes; that’s not how it works.  Al Qaeda in particular has evolved into more of a brand name than a specific terrorist organization.  But the fact that we’re finally getting the level of intelligence cooperation necessary to locate and target the highest level leaders of these groups in the FATA is terrific news, indeed.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  Story tip by Memeorandum.

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