A top al-Qaeda leader suspected of being behind a deadly attack on a CIA post in Afghanistan is believed to have been killed last week in a US drone strike in northern Pakistan, US officials have said.
Hussein al-Yemeni is suspected of helping to organise the suicide bombing at a CIA base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan in December which killed seven employees.
A senior US official said al-Yemeni, who specialised in "bombs and suicide operations", was killed in Miran Shah, in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, by a missile fired from an unmanned drone.
"We have indications that Hussein al-Yemeni – an important al-Qaeda planner and facilitator based in the tribal areas of Pakistan - was killed last week," the US counterterrorism official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"He's thought to have played a key role in the attack on December 30 at Khost."
The Khost bombing, the second-most deadly in the history of the CIA, was carried out by a double agent linked to al-Qaeda who was recruited by Jordanian intelligence.
The US official said al-Yemeni who was in his late 20s or early 30s had forged links to al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen, the Haqqani network and the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.
Al-Yemeni's death "would be the latest victory in a systematic campaign that has pounded al-Qaeda and its allies, depriving them of leaders, plotters, and fighters," added the official.
The news came as Leon Panetta, the CIA director, said in an interview that aggressive attacks against al-Qaeda fighters in Pakistan had driven the network's leaders into hiding and left the organisation in disarray.
"It's pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run," he told the Washington Post in an interview published on its website on Wednesday.
On Wednesday another suspected US drone attack in North Waziristan killed at least nine fighters, according to intelligence officials and residents, when missiles hit the vehicles they were travelling in.
Security officials said missiles fired from a pilotless aircraft hit the main town of Miran Shah followed Madakhel, about 40 kilometres west, about 50 minutes later.
The remote North Waziristan province is a refuge for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, and other armed groups, from where they launch attacks both within Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.
The US does not publically talk about drone strikes but such incidents occur regularly, targeting Taliban commanders in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt, which Washington calls the global headquarters of al-Qaeda.