Al Qaeda operative and bomb expert Abu Ubaida al-Masri, one of the terror group's top 10 leaders, is dead, a U.S. official confirmed to FOX News Wednesday.
Al-Masri was responsible for the organization’s external operations, meaning he plotted attacks outside the tribal areas of Pakistan.
A recent Los Angeles Times report described al-Masri as a "stocky Egyptian explosives expert with two missing fingers" who, as chief of external operations for Al Qaeda, has one of the most dangerous jobs in international terrorism.
The unidentified official said it is believed that al-Masri died of natural causes, possibly hepatitis, in Pakistan, and are staying away from a report that he was killed in a January CIA predator strike.
Al-Masri is tied to two major terrorist attack plots. The first being the 2005 London subway bombing, in which al-Masri is credited with recruiting, training and directing the homicide bombers. The second attack is associated is the liquid explosives bomb plot to blow up transatlantic flights bound for the U.S. and Canada in the summer of 2006.
U.S. officials say al-Masri has probably been dead for several months, with no explanation as to why news of his death was not released sooner.
Few have heard of al-Masri outside a select circle of anti-terrorism officials and Islamic militants, the L.A. Times reported. And as reports of his death repeatedly proved false, he managed to stay one step ahead of security forces that hunted him in Pakistan.
"Abu Ubaida al Masri" is an alias, and officials have yet to learn the mysterious operative's real name, the Times reported.
"He is considered capable and dangerous," an unidentified British official told the L.A. Times. "He is not at the very top of Al Qaeda, but has been part of the core circle for a long time. He is someone who has emerged and grabbed our attention as others were caught or eliminated in the last couple of years. Perhaps he rose faster than he would have otherwise."
Al-Masri's emergence seems to reflect Al Qaeda's resilience, wherein leaders fall or are caught, and mid-level chiefs step up with determination to replace them, the L.A. Times reported.
Masri was in his mid-40s according to a German investigative file obtained by the Times. His alias means "The Egyptian Father of Ubaida." Little is known about his youth. He belongs to a generation of Egyptians who have dominated Al Qaeda since they fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 80s, the Times reported.
Al-Masri fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, went on to Chechnya and lost two fingers in combat, the investigative file cites. He surfaced in Germany in 1995 requesting asylum, which was rejected in 1999. He was jailed pending deportation, but was then released for unknown reasons.
An associate of al-Masri in Germany included a Moroccan computer science student who married the daughter of Ayman Zawahiri, Usama bin Laden's deputy, the L.A. Times reported. By 2000 al-Masri was back in Afghanistan serving as an explosives instructor at a training camp near Kabul.
During the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan in late 2001, Masri fought in a paramilitary unit that took heavy casualties covering Bin Laden's escape into Pakistan, Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda," told the L.A. Times.
When the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in 2003, al-Masri joined a group of chiefs responsible for external operations, the L.A. Times reported.
On July 7, 2005, the group killed 52 people in subway bombings in London, and al-Masri’s name emerged as one of the planners.
"He's considered a player," a U.S. anti-terrorism official told the L.A. Times. "He comes up on the radar screen a few months after July 2005."
Al-Masri’s biggest terrorist plot was on scale with the Sept. 11 attacks. He intended to blow up planes flying from Britain to the United States and Canada, and oversaw the training of the militants involved.
"The airline plot is his thing," a Western intelligence official told the L.A. Times. "And it is a major plot."
Al-Masri planned for his operatives to inject liquid explosives, a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide mix, with a syringe into the false bottoms of containers such as sports drinks to sneak the materials on board. He then planned for the militants to assemble bombs after takeoff.
Police were able to thwart the plan in August 2006, weeks before the attack was to target five planes.
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