CAIRO - Al-Qaida yesterday confirmed the death of a top commander accused of training the suicide bombers who killed 17 American sailors on the USS Cole eight years ago. Abu Khabab al-Masri had a $5-million bounty on his head from the United States, and was believed to have been killed in a suspected U.S. airstrike in Pakistan last week.

In an Internet statement, Al-Qaida said al-Masri and three other top figures were killed, though it did not provide details of their deaths. Advertisement

Pakistani authorities have said they believe al-Masri is one of six people who were killed in an American airstrike on July 28 on a compound in South Waziristan, a lawless tribal region near the Afghan border.

Al-Masri, an Egyptian whose real name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, is also believed to have helped run Al-Qaida's Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan until 2001, where he is thought to have conducted experiments with chemical and biological weapons.

The Al-Qaida statement, dated July 30, was posted on an Islamic Web site and signed by the group's top Afghan leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed.

It warned that al-Masri had "left behind, with God's grace, a generation of faithful students who will make you suffer the worst torture and avenge him and his brothers."

Terrorism experts downplayed the significance of al-Masri's death.

"A big name does not mean a big impact on the ground," said Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, adding that Al-Qaida "has developed in such a way that it can survive and fill in any gap even if Osama bin Laden was to die."

The U.S. military has not confirmed it was behind the July 28 missile strike. But similar previous strikes are believed to have been conducted by the CIA, using Predator drones.

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