US officials tell ABC News that al Qaeda’s No. 3 -- Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid, known as Shaikh Sa’id al-Masri and Mustafa Abu al-Yazid – has been killed. Al Qaeda released a eulogy of Shaikh Sa’id tonight, officials said.
"Word is spreading in extremist circles of the death of Sheikh Sa'id al-Masri, widely viewed as the number three figure in al-Qaeda,” a US official told ABC News. “We have strong reason to believe that's true, and that al-Masri was killed recently in Pakistan's tribal areas. In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory.”
US officials believed him to have been killed about a week ago in Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are the spiritual founders, and considered No. 1 and No. 2 of al Qaeda list, but Shaikh Sa’id is considered the link between those two and rest of the operation, and for all intents and purposes the one running the organization day to day.
"Al-Masri was the group's chief operating officer,” the official said, “with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization's prime conduit to Bin Ladin and Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda's command and control.”
Shaikh Sa’id is the senior most al Qaeda official killed under President Obama, the officials said. An Egyptian, Shaikh Sa’id was formerly the chief financial officer of al Qaeda. The Sept. 11 Commission said that internally he argued against the 9/11 attacks "because he feared the U.S. response to an attack."
Three years ago, Al Jazeera ran a tape of Shaikh Sa’id presenting himself as the leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He’s been promoted since then as those above him have been killed off.
The official said Shaikh Sa’id's "death would be a major blow to al-Qaeda, which in December lost both its internal and external operations chiefs." (A reference to the killings of Abdullah Said and Saleh al-Somali, respectively.)
"Though these terrorists remain extremely dangerous and determined to strike at the United States, the removal from the battlefield of top leaders like al-Masri is further proof that the tribal areas are not quite the safe haven al-Qaeda and its allies thought them to be," the official said.
- Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulos