Four Pakistani intelligence officers were ambushed and killed today while traveling to meet with tribal leaders they hoped would help them find and capture al Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al Zawahri and one of his deputies.
Pakistani military officials tell ABC News they believe "elements close to al Qaeda" carried out the hit on the four officers, all members of the country's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), in an apparent attempt to foil cooperation between Pakistani intelligence and tribal leaders thought to have knowledge helpful to learning the al Qaeda leaders' whereabouts.
Two of the ISI officials killed belonged to an anti-terrorism unit fighting al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials conceded the attackers knew closely-held details of the men's journey, including the timing of the men's trip, their route and their purpose. That is sure to raise fresh questions about al Qaeda's penetration of the Pakistani intelligence service.
The officials denied the attack was an "inside job" aided or carried out by rogue ISI officials sympathetic to al Qaeda.
Wearing civilian clothes and driving a rented car, the four ISI men were traveling from their office in Peshawar to Khar, the main town of the Bajaur tribal agency, to meet with tribal leaders, when they were ambushed by masked attackers on motorbikes, who fired guns and lobbed grenades at the car.
The officials were hoping to locate al Zawahri and his son-in-law, Abu Obeidah al Misri, who is believed to be the new operational commander of al Qaeda.
Alexis Debat is an ABC News consultant.