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US Official: Al-Qaida terrorist dead of natural causes
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    WASHINGTON — An Egyptian al-Qaida boss believed to be the planner behind the foiled 2006 terrorist plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic is dead of natural causes, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Wednesday.
    One official said the strategist, Abu Obeida al-Masri, was also responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is linked to the July 7, 2005 attacks on the London transit system, one official said Wednesday.
    Al-Masri is believed to have died of hepatitis in late 2007 in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area bordering Afghanistan, a second counterterrorism official said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
    He was ‘‘a senior external operations planner’’ for al-Qaida, which U.S. intelligence says has reconstituted its headquarters in western Pakistan, one official said.
    Al-Masri planned the disrupted 2006 attacks in which as many as 10 passenger jets bound for the United States were meant to be blown up over the Atlantic simultaneously with liquid explosives. British authorities arrested 24 suspects in August 2006 after nearly a year of surveillance. The suspects planned to smuggle bombs and detonators disguised as drinks and electronic devices onto the planes in their carry-on baggage.
    The plot caused the United States and Britain to adopt tougher security measures for airline passengers. The United States limited the amount of liquids and gels that could be carried on board. The British for a time banned nearly all carry-ons.
    Al-Masri is also believed to have been behind the successful London transit attacks. That attack occurred during the morning rush hour in London, when three bombs on the London Underground exploded simultaneously. A fourth bomb exploded an hour later on a bus. The attack killed 52 and injured 700. Four suicide bombers also died.
    Little else is publicly known about Al-Masri. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center does not even list him in its profiles of known and most-wanted terrorists.
    The Los Angeles Times reported April 2 that, according to European documents, al-Masri is in his mid-40s. He fought in Bosnia in the early 1990 and was wounded in Chechnya before going to Afghanistan in 2000. He fled into Pakistan in late 2001 with other al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
    In Pakistan, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said he had no information about the death of al-Masri. Several Pakistani intelligence officials contacted by The Associated Press had no immediate comment.
    Based in the mountainous Afghan province of Kunar, al-Masri was believed to have been in charge of planning attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in the volatile east region of the country. Violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan spiked last year, leaving about 1,600 people dead, including a surge in suicide attacks — a change of tactics by the militants.
    Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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