Al-Qaeda deputy leader killed in US drone strike


ISLAMABAD – Al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike in northern Pakistan, a US official confirmed yesterday, in the biggest single success in the controversial campaign’s eight-year history.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described al-Libi as one of al-Qaeda’s “most experienced and versatile leaders” and said he had “played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts”.

The official did not give details about how al-Libi’s death had been confirmed. In past drone strikes against militant leaders, US intelligence officials have monitored mobile phone and internet messages to confirm the effects of the missions.

The airstrike occurred on Monday in a village outside Mir Ali, a major hub of Pakistani and international militancy in North Waziristan. At the time, US officials announced al-Libi had been the strike’s target but could not confirm his condition. Pakistanis living in the area reported that he had been either killed or seriously wounded, and that 15 other people had been killed.

Al-Libi, believed to be in his late 40s, moved up to become al-Qaeda’s deputy, behind Ayman al-Zawahri, after a US commando raid killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. He already had a high profile in the militant world: he escaped the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2005 and went on to make a series of videos that established him as a leading voice calling for attacks on the US – and as a charismatic focal point for a terrorist group that was widely seen as being in decline.

This is not the first report of al-Libi’s death: rumours had coursed through jihadi websites in December 2009 after a similar strike in South Waziristan. But if his death is borne out this time, it would be an important chapter in an airstrike campaign that has infuriated Pakistani officials but has remained a most effective tool in the fight against militant leaders.

Characterising what the loss would mean to al-Qaeda, the American official said: “Zawahri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya’s shoes . . . ”

A senior Pakistani security official said Pakistani intelligence had no independent confirmation of al-Libi’s death. – (NYT)