Afghan security forces claim they killed a top al Qaeda operative listed on the FBI’s most-wanted list, Politico reported Sunday.
Husam Abd al-Rauf, also known as Abu Muhsin al-Masri, ranked as al Qaeda’s second-in-command. The Egyptian national was on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists for his role in the terrorist organization and in a conspiracy to kill Americans. Afghan officials claim they killed al-Rauf in one of Afghanistan’s eastern provinces this weekend. NATO and U.S. missions in the country have not yet confirmed al-Rauf’s death.
Al-Rauf served for years as al Qaeda's chief propagandist after first joining mujahideen fighters during their resistance against the Soviet Union in 1986. Terror expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Tom Joscelyn called al-Rauf a "trusted subordinate" of current al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
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An Afghan official said the Taliban had harbored al-Rauf before his death. The Taliban continue to maintain they have no hand in aiding al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.
Cooperation between the Taliban and al Qaeda would stand to violate the February deal made with the United States in Doha. As part of an agreement to facilitate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington made clear that the Taliban could not provide aid to al Qaeda.
The Taliban neither confirmed nor denied their involvement in harboring al-Rauf, but told the Associated Press they are investigating the matter.
Al-Rauf’s death comes in the wake of another major blow to al Qaeda. An American drone strike reportedly killed two senior al Qaeda-affiliated operatives in Syria’s Idlib Governorate. Meanwhile, a recent State Department estimate puts al Qaeda’s overall force size in Afghanistan at less than 200 members.