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'No confirmation' al Qaeda figure dead, U.S. Defense spokesman says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Top al Qaeda leader reportedly killed
  • The United States cannot confirm the death of Kashmiri, an official says
  • Defense Department spokesman Toner says he has "no way of confirming his death"
  • Kashmiri's followers say he was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan
  • He is considered one of the most dangerous men in the world

Washington (CNN) -- The United States cannot confirm that al Qaeda operational commander Ilyas Kashmiri is dead, Defense Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday, contradicting Pakistan's prime minister.

"There's no confirmation," Toner told reporters at the Defense Department's daily briefing.

Kashmiri's jihadist group, Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami, previously said Kashmiri was killed, along with some aides, in a strike late Friday night.

On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters, "The U.S. has confirmed that Ilyas Kashmiri was killed on Friday."

Al Qaeda's 'military brain' killed
  • Ilyas Kashmiri
  • Al Qaeda
  • Islamism

Speaking at a Monday news conference in Quetta, the capital of the country's southwestern province of Balochistan, Gilani did not explain how he knew the United States had confirmed the death of the man described by counterterrorism officials as al Qaeda's "military brain."

But later in Washington, Toner, responding to a reporter's question, said, "I don't have any confirmation of that."

Pressed on whether he was saying the U.S. government could not substantiate the report or that he had no comment, he responded, "I both have no comment and no way of confirming his death."

Kashmiri's death would be the first major kill or capture since the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, and the highest profile drone target since Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.

It could also be seen as an embarrassment for Pakistanis, who would have twice in just over one month had a major al Qaeda figure killed on their territory without their participation.

U.S. drones now operate entirely autonomously in Pakistan, a Pakistani intelligence source has told CNN. Whereas before the United States cooperated with Pakistan and used their intelligence, the Americans now have an intelligence network that allows them to go after terrorists unilaterally.

Kashmiri, a veteran jihadist, has been considered one of the most dangerous men in the world by counterterrorism officials on three continents.

He has been commander of "Brigade 313" of Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami, which formed a close relationship with al Qaeda.

Kashmiri also has been said to have ties with David Coleman Headley, the U.S. citizen who confessed to helping scout targets for the attack in Mumbai, India, in November 2008.