Taliban says accident, not US bomb, killed al–Qaida veteran

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The Independent Online

Taliban officials confirmed that a veteran comrade of Osama bin Laden had died in Afghanistan but insisted it was a grenade accident, not a US bomb, that killed him, a Pakistan–based news agency reported.

Abu Baseer al–Masri was mortally wounded Oct. 11 when a grenade he was holding accidentally exploded, injuring his hands and chest, the private Afghan Islamic Press reported.

Al–Masri died Saturday at a hospital in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, according to the news agency.

A London–based Islamic group had reported al–Masri's death on Thursday, saying he was killed by a US bomb near Jalalabad on Sunday.

The Islamic Observation Center reported the death in a statement e–mailed to The Associated Press in Cairo.

It marked the first word of a fatality among established figures of bin Laden's al–Qaida network during the nearly two–week US–led air campaign.

The center said two of his comrades, a Chinese Muslim and a Saudi, were injured. No details were given.

Al–Masri, a longtime member of the Egyptian radical group al–Gamaa al–Islamiya, had been in Afghanistan for at least 10 years, much of the time in al–Qaida camps, according to former fighters in Afghanistan.

He was reportedly close to bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman al–Zawahri, also an Egyptian.

The Islamic Observation Center acts as a public relations outfit for Islamic fundamentalist groups and has passed along statements for them in the past. It has been regularly reporting war news from Afghanistan since US strikes began Oct. 7.