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Sources: Airstrike may have killed bin Laden's No. 2

From David Ensor
CNN

story.zawahiri.aljazeera.jpg
Intelligence suggests that Ayman al-Zawahiri, seen in this September video, may have been killed.

(CNN) -- Ayman al-Zawahiri -- Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in the al Qaeda terrorist network -- was the target of a CIA airstrike Friday in a remote Pakistani village and may have been among those killed, knowledgeable U.S. sources told CNN.

There has been no confirmation that al-Zawahiri was killed in the attack, which took place in the village of Damadola, near the Afghan border.

However, the sources said there was intelligence suggesting he was in one of the buildings hit during the strike. (Watch how al-Zawahiri was targeted -- 5:39)

Pakistani officials were at the scene, trying to determine if al-Zawahiri was killed, the U.S. sources told CNN.

Contacted by CNN, Pakistan's information minister could not confirm that al-Zawahiri had been the target of a CIA strike. Both the Pentagon and the White House declined to comment on the reports.

Eighteen people died in Friday morning's strike -- eight men, five women and five children, Pakistani intelligence sources said. Three homes were targeted.

"We are conducting tests to identify the bodies," a Pakistani intelligence official told CNN.

The strike came a week after the Arabic language news network Al-Jazeera aired a new videotape with a message from al-Zawahiri, in which he called on U.S. President George W. Bush to admit defeat in Iraq.

U.S. authorities believe al-Zawahiri, 54, a doctor from a prominent Egyptian family, helped mastermind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He has also been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. government has put up a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

While bin Laden himself hasn't been heard from since October 2004, last week's videotape was the fifth message from al-Zawahiri released over the past year, including several claiming responsibility for the July attacks on London's transit system.

Considered the intellectual and ideological driving force behind al Qaeda, al-Zawahiri has been associated with bin Laden since at least 1987, when they first met in Pakistan. He is also believed to act as bin Laden's personal physician.

In 1998, al-Zawahiri merged his own Islamic militant group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, into bin Laden's organization.

Three months after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. forces attacked al-Zawahiri's residence in Afghanistan, killing his wife and children.

In March 2004, Pakistani troops launched an assault on an area in Waziristan province where intelligence indicated al-Zawahiri was hiding, but he was not captured.

Last month, Pakistani officials confirmed the death of a top al Qaeda official, Abu Hamza Rabia, who was killed in an explosion December 1 north of the border town of Miram Shah (Full story).

But witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how he died. Villagers said he was killed in a missile strike, while Pakistan offficials said he died while working with explosives.

Egyptian-born Rabia was described as al Qaeda's operations chief and No. 3 man.

-- CNN Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report

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