Abu Obaidah al-Masri, External Operations Chief
Nationality: Egyptian

One of the most mysterious members of al-Qaeda's inner circle, this Egyptian veteran of the wars in Afghanistan is known only by his nom de guerre, which means, "father of Obaidah the Egyptian." He is believed to be in his mid-40s.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Masri is a senior operational planner and was al-Qaeda's conduit to the British-Pakistani cells that carried out the July 7, 2005, public transit bombings in London as well as the failed transatlantic airliner plot in Britain in 2006. Pakistani officials have said a central player in the airliner plot, Rashid Rauf, a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, reported to Masri.

He has served as a field commander in the Afghan province of Kunar and may have travelled to Saudi Arabia to help organize an al-Qaeda affiliate there, security analysts said.

Obaidah has escaped assassination attempts on at least two occasions. In January 2006, Pakistani officials initially reported that he and three other senior al-Qaeda figures were killed in a missile attack by an unmanned CIA Predator drone in the village of Damadola, near the Afghan border. Security officials later determined that he was not in the village at the time of the missile strike.

Nine months later, Obaidah was the target of another missile strike in a different Pakistani village, but again proved elusive.

Pakistani officials said that that air raid was prompted by intelligence that Obaidah and al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were expected to visit a madrassa, or Islamic seminary, in Chingai in northwestern Pakistan. Pakistani helicopter gunships killed more than 80 people, but Obaidah and Zawahiri were not among them.

— Craig Whitlock and Munir Ladaa

© 2006 The Washington Post Company