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Pakistan: Al Qaeda leader killed

Witnesses say missile strike; Pakistani officials dispute that claim

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Tribal people look at the body of Abdul Wasit, who was reportedly one of the five killed in the blast.

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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani officials have confirmed the recent death of al Qaeda operations chief Abu Hamza Rabia, but denied reports that his death was the result of a U.S. missile strike.

Pakistani officials said Saturday that Rabia died as a result of an explosion in a home in the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

He was apparently working with explosives when the blast occurred, Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told CNN. ( Watch officials confirm Rabia's death -- 1:26)

Wednesday's explosion killed "five miscreants, including three foreigners," one of which was Rabia, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told CNN. Two others were injured in the blast.

Authorities are examining the home where the blast took place, Sherpao said.

Residents of North Waziristan said they witnessed a missile attack from an unmanned aerial vehicle on a house where the five men were killed, Pakistani journalist Salim Bokhari told CNN.

A European Pressphoto Agency photograph from the scene of the blast shows Pakistani villagers holding a piece of shrapnel. When the photograph is magnified, English words are visible on the shrapnel.

A former intelligence analyst said the debris appears to be from a U.S. weapon.

CNN cannot confirm whether the shrapnel is from a U.S. missile or whether it is related to Wednesday's incident.

The former analyst said the photo "has an authentic feel to it" and the shrapnel "did not appear to be a deception."

U.S. officials have not commented on the reports of a missile strike, or on Rabia's death. However, two U.S. intelligence officials described his death as a "very significant development" and a "significant blow to al Qaeda and its organization."

The officials say Rabia, an Egyptian in his 30s, was al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

They said he was responsible for the external planning of terrorism, including terror strikes against the United States. They said he replaced Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a top al Qaeda leader, who was captured earlier this year.

During a visit to Kuwait, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, confirmed Rabia's death.

"Yes, indeed, 200 percent confirmed," he said.

Musharraf said he was killed north of Miran Shah, but did not shed any light on how he died.

His press secretary and army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said Pakistan's government does not have custody of Rabia's body, adding that it was "probably taken away by his comrades."

Pakistani officials had been tracking Rabia for over a month, Ahmed said.

"He was a big fish in al Qaeda," Ahmed added.

Rabia narrowly avoided capture November 5, and was slightly wounded in the leg, Sherpao said.

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi and David Ensor contributed to this report.

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