Published: Jun 01, 2010 10:35 AM EDT
Updated: Jun 01, 2010 7:37 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - Al-Qaida announced Monday that its No. 3

official, Mustafa al-Yazid, had been killed along with members of

his family - perhaps one of the most severe blows to the terror

movement since the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida began. A U.S.

official said al-Yazid was believed to have died in a U.S. missile

strike.

A statement posted on an al-Qaida Website said al-Yazid, which

it described as the organization's top commander in Afghanistan,

was killed along with his wife, three daughters, a grandchild and

other men, women and children but did not say how or where.

The statement did not give an exact date for al-Yazid's death,

but it was dated by the Islamic calendar month of "Jemadi

al-Akhar," which falls in May.

A U.S. official in Washington said word was "spreading in

extremist circles" of his death in Pakistan's tribal areas in the

past two weeks.

His death would be a major blow to al-Qaida, which in December

"lost both its internal and external operations chiefs," the

official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity

of the information.

The Egyptian-born al-Yazid, also known as Sheik Saeed al-Masri,

was a founding member of al-Qaida and the group's prime conduit to

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. He was key to day-to-day

control, with a hand in everything from finances to operational

planning, the U.S. official said.

Al-Yazid has been reported killed before, in 2008, but this is

the first time his death has been acknowledged by the militant

group on the Internet.

Al-Yazid has been one of many targets in a U.S. Predator drone

campaign aimed at militants in Pakistan since President Barack

Obama took office. Al-Yazid made no secret of his contempt for the

United States, once calling it "the evil empire leading crusades

against the Muslims."

"We have reached the point where we see no difference between

the state and the American people," al-Yazid told Pakistan's Geo

TV in a June 2008 interview. "The United States is a non-Muslim

state bent on the destruction of Muslims."

The shadowy, 55-year-old al-Yazid has been involved with Islamic

extremist movements for nearly 30 years since he joined radical

student groups led by fellow Egyptian al-Zawahri, now the No. 2

figure in al-Qaida after bin Laden.

In the early 1980s, al-Yazid served three years in an Egyptian

prison for purported links to the group responsible for the 1981

assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. After his release,

al-Yazid turned up in Afghanistan, where, according to al-Qaida's

propaganda wing Al-Sabah, he became a founding member of the

terrorist group.

He later followed bin Laden to Sudan and back to Afghanistan,

where he served as al-Qaida's chief financial officer, managing

secret bank accounts in the Persian Gulf that were used to help

finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

After the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, al-Yazid

went into hiding for years. He surfaced in May 2007 during a

45-minute interview posted on the Web by Al-Sabah, in which he was

introduced as the "official in charge" of the terrorist

movement's operations in Afghanistan.

Some security analysts believe the choice of al-Yazid as the

Afghan chief may have signaled a new approach for al-Qaida in the

country where it once reigned supreme.

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit that tracked bin

Laden, believes bin Laden and al-Zawahri wanted a trusted figure to

handle Afghanistan "while they turn to other aspects of the jihad

outside" the country.

Al-Yazid had little background in leading combat operations. But

terrorism experts say his advantage was that he was close to

Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As a fluent Pashto speaker known for

impeccable manners, al-Yazid enjoyed better relations with the

Afghans than many of the al-Qaida Arabs, whom the Afghans found

arrogant and abrasive.

That suggested a conscious decision by al-Qaida to embed within

the Taliban organization, helping the Afghan allies with expertise

and training while at the same time putting an Afghan face on the

war.

Al-Yazid himself alluded to such an approach in an interview

this year with Al-Jazeera television's Islamabad correspondent

Ahmad Zaidan. Al-Yazid said al-Qaida fighters were involved at

every level with the Taliban.

"We participate with our brothers in the Islamic Emirate in all

fields," al-Yazid said. "This had a big positive effect on the

(Taliban) self-esteem in Afghanistan."

A September 2007 al-Qaida video sought to promote the notion of

close Taliban-al-Qaida ties at a time when the Afghan insurgents

were launching their comeback six years after their ouster from

power in Kabul.

The video showed al-Yazid sitting with a senior Taliban

commander in a field surrounded by trees as a jihad anthem played.

The Taliban commander vowed to "target the infidels in Afghanistan

and outside Afghanistan" and to "focus our attacks, Allah

willing, on the coalition forces in Afghanistan."

There is also evidence that al-Yazid has promoted ties with

Islamic extremist groups in Central Asia and Pakistan, where other

top al-Qaida figures are believed to be hiding.

"He definitely seems to have significant influence among the

Pakistani Taliban and the Central Asian groups," terrorism expert

Evan Kohlman said. "They regularly post and share his videos on

the Web, just as they would with bin Laden or al-Zawahri."

In August 2008, Pakistani military officials claimed al-Yazid

had been killed in fighting in the Bajaur tribal area along the

Afghan border. However, he turned up in subsequent al-Qaida videos,

all of which had clearly been made after the Bajaur fighting.