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Reports: Al-Qaida leader wanted in USS Cole bombing killed in Yemen airstrike

AP

This photo released by the FBI in May 2003 shows Fahd al-Quso, who was charged with helping to plan the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in 2000.

Updated at 7:42 p.m. ET: Two Yemeni members of al-Qaida, including a top leader wanted in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, were killed in their car by an apparent U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen, residents there and a spokesman for an al-Qaida-linked group said Sunday.

The strike occurred in the Wadi Rafad valley in Shabwa province.

One of the dead men was believed to be Fahd al-Quso, who was convicted for a role in the 2000 bombing of USS Cole in the port of Aden, and the other was Fahed Salem al-Akdam, residents said, Reuters reported.


The plane that fired the missile had been sighted in the sky, they said.

The U.S. did not immediately confirm the deaths, according to The Associated Press.

No one else was killed and no one else was traveling in the vehicle, the residents said.
   
A local government official in Shabwa confirmed the attack, and, separately, a statement from the al Qaida-linked Ansar al-Sharia group said, "Al-Qaida affirms the martyrdom of the Fahd al-Quso in an American attack this afternoon in Rafad.''

Al-Quso, 37, was on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. He was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the USS Cole bombing in which 17 American sailors were killed and 39 injured.

A New Yorker magazine story from 2006 described al-Quso as a member of the al-Qaida support team in Aden. Al-Quso had been tasked with capturing video of the blast from a nearby apartment for al-Qaida but he slept through his morning alarm and didn't set up his camera on time.

Al-Quso served more than five years in a Yemeni prison for his role in the attack and was released in 2007. He briefly escaped prison in 2003 but later turned himself in to serve the rest of his sentence.

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Al-Quso was also one of the most senior al-Qaida leaders publicly linked to the 2009 Christmas airliner attack. He has allegedly met with the suspected bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Yemen before he left on his way to execute his failed bombing over Detroit.

In December 2010, al-Quso was designated a global terrorist by the State Department, an indication that his role in al-Qaida's Yemen branch had grown more prominent.

Local Yemeni official Abu Bakr bin Farid and the Yemeni Embassy in Washington confirmed al-Quso was killed in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in Shabwa, according to AP. It is the area where many of al-Qaida leaders are believed to have taken cover, including the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen last year.

Yemeni government officials reported that Al-Quso and al-Awlaki were killed in an airstrike in 2009 in Rafd, but they both resurfaced alive.

Al-Quso was known for his ability to move in disguise. He was from the same tribe as al-Awlaki, and local tribesmen said he was a close aide. He studied ultraconservative Salafi Islam as a teenager in northern Yemen, then returned home to learn welding.

The White House and the State Department had no immediate comment.

Yemen's government has been waging an offensive on al-Qaida militants, who have taken advantage of the country's political turmoil over the last year to expand their hold in the south.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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