Al-Qaeda third in command killed in drone strike says US

AL-QAEDA'S third in command is believed to be have been killed by a US Predator drone strike, a US official said today.

Word is reportedly "spreading in extremist circles" of the death of Sheikh Sa'id al-Masri in Pakistan's tribal areas in the past two weeks.

Most prominent is an assertion of his death on the internet by al Qaida's so-called General Command.

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Al-Masri has been reported killed before, in 2008, but this is the first time his death has been acknowledged by the militant group.

Al-Masri, also known as Mustafa al-Yazid, was the group's prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and he had key to day-to-day control, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning, the US official said.

The official says the death would be a major blow to al-Qaeda, which in December "lost both its internal and external operations chiefs".

Al-Masri has been one of many targets in a US Predator drone campaign aimed at militants.

The Egyptian-born militant made no secret of his contempt for the US, once calling it "the evil empire leading crusades against the Muslims".