ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - A U.S. drone strike in northern
Pakistan has killed al-Qaida's second-in-command, American
officials said Tuesday, the biggest success so far in the
controversial military program and a significant setback to a
terror network that has lost a string of top figures since the
death of Osama bin Laden last year.
Abu Yahya al-Libi was considered a media-savvy, charismatic
leader with religious credentials who escaped from an American
prison in Afghanistan and was helping preside over the
transformation of al-Qaida from a close-knit group into an
ideological movement aimed at winning converts - and potential
attackers - around the world.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called al-Libi's death a
"major blow" to the terror network.
Carney described al-Libi as an operational leader and a
"general manager" of al-Qaida. He said al-Libi had a range of
experience that will be hard for al-Qaida to replicate and brings
the terror network closer to its ultimate demise than ever before.
Al-Libi was the latest in the dozen-plus senior commanders
removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al-Qaida since Navy
SEALs killed bin Laden.
A hero in militant circles for his 2005 escape from an American
military prison in Afghanistan, al-Libi was elevated to al-Qaida's
No. 2 spot when Ayman al-Zawahri rose to replace bin Laden shortly
after the terror leader was killed on May 2, 2011.
Carney would not confirm how he was killed, but an American
official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss
intelligence matters, said it was in a drone strike Monday morning.
Pakistani officials had previously said that eight militants died
in a drone strike in the Pakistani village of Khassu Khel in the
North Waziristan tribal area.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that
al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, Pakistani intelligence
officials said. They said the mud and brick house was destroyed in
the attack. A vehicle used by al-Libi was destroyed during the
strike, said one of the officials.
A local Taliban chief said earlier Monday that al-Libi was not
present at the house, though his guard and driver were killed in
The intelligence officials also declined to be identified
because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The Taliban
chief spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by
the Pakistani army.
The White House maintains a list of terrorist targets to be
killed or captured, compiled by the military and the CIA and
ultimately approved by the president.
The State Department's Rewards for Justice program had set a $1
million reward for information leading to al-Libi, who had filmed
numerous propaganda videos urging attacks on U.S. targets.
The U.S. has carried out a flurry of drone strikes recently -
seven in less than two weeks - some of which appear to have been
trying to target al-Libi. The al-Qaida deputy appeared to have been
wounded in one of those strikes, although there were conflicting
accounts as to which.
Pakistani intelligence officials said al-Libi had been slightly
injured in a May 28 attack in a village near Khassu Khel, where he
then moved. The Taliban chief said the strike that wounded al-Libi
was two days earlier in a different village.
As al-Qaida's de facto general manager, al-Libi was responsible
for running the group's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal
areas and managed outreach to al-Qaida's regional affiliates.
Al-Libi, an Islamic scholar, was captured in 2002 and held by
U.S. forces at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan until he escaped
in 2005 in an embarrassing security breach. Almost immediately
after reuniting with his Taliban and al-Qaida brethren he began
appearing in videos released by the terror group.
The Rewards for Justice program described al-Libi as using his
"religious training to influence people and legitimize the actions
In a 2009 profile of al-Libi in Foreign Policy magazine,
terrorism expert Jarret Brachman described al-Libi as
"media-savvy, ideologically extreme, and masterful at justifying
savage acts of terrorism with esoteric religious arguments."
Al-Libi was one of thousands of men from around the Muslim and
Arab world who flocked to Afghanistan in the 1980s to battle the
Soviet Union. According to Brachman, he later went to Mauritania
for advanced religious studies that he then used in repeated videos
and other al-Qaida outreach designed to attract followers and
justify the group's deadly tactics. He honed his outreach skills
while working in Karachi as webmaster for a Taliban website,
The stepping up of drone strikes since late May follows a
relative lull driven by tensions between Washington and Islamabad
over American airstrikes last year that killed 24 Pakistani
Pakistan seized the opportunity to renegotiate its relationship
with the U.S. and demanded Washington stop drone strikes in the
country - a demand the U.S. has ignored. The attacks are unpopular
in Pakistan because many people believe they mostly kill civilians,
an allegation disputed by the U.S.
Pakistan called Deputy U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland to the
Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to protest the drone strikes.
"He was informed that the drone strikes were unlawful, against
international law and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," the
Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Members of the Pakistani government and military have supported
the strikes in the past, but that cooperation has come under strain
as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.
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