KABUL — Al-Qaeda has announced the death of Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, regarded as its number three and Osama bin Laden's one-time top money man, in what would be a major blow to the global terror network.
US monitoring groups said the death of Yazid, who was most recently the leader of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and its liaison with the Taliban, was announced by the group in a message to jihadist websites on Monday.
In Washington, a US official said there was "strong reason" to believe that the Egyptian militant was dead and that he was killed recently in Pakistan's tribal areas, a hotbed of Islamist militants.
"In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory," the official said.
Yazid, one of a number of Egyptians in the higher echelons of Al-Qaeda, was a founder member of the network and a former treasurer to bin Laden who was accused of channelling money to some of the September 11 hijackers.
"Al-Masri was the group's chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning," the US official said, using another name for the 54-year-old Yazid.
"He was also the organisation's prime conduit to bin Laden and Zawahiri," he said referring to Al-Qaeda number two and fellow Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. "He was key to Al-Qaeda's command and control."
The Al-Qaeda message carried by the SITE group which monitors Islamist websites did not give any details about the circumstances of the death of Yazid other than to speak of his "martyrdom".
But it said the message from Al-Qaeda posted on jihadist forums on May 31 said his wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.
"His death will only be a severe curse by his life upon the infidels. The response is near. That is sufficient," according to the message translated by SITE.
Yazid was on the list of individuals, organisations and charities whose assets were frozen by the US Treasury in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was Yazid who transferred funds via Dubai for Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Wal al-Shehri, three of the September 11 hijackers who flew aircraft into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
The dark-bearded Yazid has appeared in a number of videos released by Al-Qaeda since he first appeared as head of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in May 2007, wearing thick glasses and a white turban.
A former member of the Islamic Jihad movement in Egypt, he had close links with Zawahiri and served time in jail over the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
"This is one of the most significant blows against Al-Qaeda in recent years and its impact will be felt by the group," said Ben Venzke of intelligence analysis group IntelCenter.
He said Yazid ran Al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"While the loss of al-Yazid will have an impact, the group will likely maintain its operational tempo in terms of attacks and other activities."
According to Yasser al-Sirri, the director of the London-based Islamic Observatory, Yazid was born in December 1955 in the Al-Sharqiya area of the Nile Delta in Egypt.
Sirri said at the time of Yazid's appearance in May 2007 that he was "trusted by bin Laden, for whom he ran businesses in Sudan" when the founder of Al-Qaeda lived in exile there before Khartoum expelled him in 1996.
"Yazid is known for his integrity and management skills, but has never taken organisational or military responsibility at the heart of Al-Qaeda, of which he was one of the founders in 1989," Sirri said.
Yazid's last public statement was in a message released on May 4, when he delivered a eulogy for Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, the two top Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq who were killed in April.