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Top al-Qaeda leader killed in US missile strike

2nd high-profile operative killed in recent US attacks

A major al-Qaeda operative of Arab origin was among the five alleged militants killed in a suspected U.S. missile strike in northwest Pakistan, a senior security official said on Wednesday.

Security sources identified the militant as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi, a senior member in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

"He was a senior commander of al-Qaeda and was involved in recruiting and training of fighters," the senior official said.

He is the second high-profile al-Qaeda operative killed in recent U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan's rugged tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

The suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan, killing five suspected foreign militants and wounding several people the pre-dawn attack.

Missile-armed drones are primarily used by U.S. forces in the region, though the United States seldom confirms drone attacks. Pakistan does not have any.

Many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, including Arabs, Chechens, Turkmen, Uzbeks and other Central Asians, fled to Pakistan's tribal lands after a U.S.-led military invasion toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Frustrated by fighters from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fearful of al-Qaeda regrouping, U.S. forces have intensified missile attacks by pilotless drones, security sources said.

Egyptian al-Qaeda operative Abu Jihad al-Masri, described by the U.S. as the terrorist network's propaganda chief, was killed in a missile strike in Pakistan in the early hours of Nov. 1.

He was among several rebels killed when two missiles fired by a suspected U.S. spy drone hit a truck in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, security officials said.

Later in the day al-Qaeda number two Ayman Zawahiri warned U.S. president-elect Barack Obama against sending more troops to Afghanistan, in an Internet audiomessage released on Wednesday.

"What you have announced before ... that you will withdraw (U.S.) troops from Iraq (and send them) to Afghanistan is a policy that is doomed to failure," Zawahiri said in the message made available by the SITE Intelligence Group.