A senior al-Qaida official and potential successor to the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed Friday morning in a Predator drone strike, according to reports on jihadi web forums and U.S. officials.
Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan, aka Abu-Zaid al Kuwaiti, was killed in Pakistan while eating breakfast, according to the accounts. The 46-year-old cleric was seen as part of the “very top tier" of al-Qaida's remaining leaders in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, according to one expert on the terror group.
The news was first announced on an al-Qaida web forum early Friday. “We celebrate to you the news of the martyrdom of the working scholar Shaykh Khalid al-Hussainan (Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti) while eating his Suhoor (dawn time) meal, and we ask Allah to accept him in paradise," a post said.
Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News counterterrorism analyst, said al-Hussainan was at the forefront of a new wave of al-Qaida leadership.
“That's a big gap in the leadership,” said Kohlmann, who is also a Justice Department consultant. “He was the last senior Al-Qaida leader in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area who was, one, from the Arabian Peninsula and, two, who had serious clerical credentials. Now there is no obvious publicly recognizable candidate left to succeed Zawahiri.”