It's always interesting to hear a terrorist labeled as "al Qaeda's number-three man", but apparently these terrorist rankings are pretty subjective.

The reported killing of a senior al Qaeda operative by a CIA-launched missile in Pakistan on Dec. 1 has sparked debate among terrorism experts over the true identity of the target and the accuracy of numerical rankings that the Pentagon and White House have attached to other captured or killed terrorists. ...

On Dec. 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters that Abu Hamza Rabia had been killed in an explosion two days earlier. An aide to Musharraf told reporters that Rabia was "very important in al Qaeda, maybe number three or five" in the terror group's hierarchy. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao added that Rabia's death was a "big blow to al Qaeda."

Several American news organizations, including the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, then quoted multiple, unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Rabia was al Qaeda's number-three man, the operational commander or military commander, all terms typically used interchangeably. Headlines around the world trumpeted the death of the "al Qaeda number three man". ...

But the day before Hadley's appearances, terrorism expert and author Christopher L. Brown was labeling it all a case of mistaken identity. Rabia was wanted for plotting to assassinate Musharraf, Brown said, was probably a local senior member of al Qaeda, but was far from being its military mastermind. ...

Rabia has never appeared on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list and no known reward has been posted for his capture, Brown points out.

A LexisNexis database search turns up no news articles written about Rabia prior to his reported killing, except for an Aug. 18, 2004, announcement by the Pakistani government of a reward for his capture and that of six other al Qaeda suspects accused of attempting to assassinate President Musharraf on Dec. 14 and 25, 2003.

The 'real' al Qaeda number three, Brown contends, is Saif al-Adel (also known as Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi), who was previously reported by numerous independent sources to have become al Qaeda's chief of the military committee (operational commander) following the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.

Anyway, there's a lot more info to be found online, and I wouldn't trust Pakistani rankings too far.



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