Confirming the death of al Qaeda’s Number 2 leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, the US on Tuesday said this was a major blow to the terrorist outfit’s core leadership.
It will make it difficult for post-bin Laden leadership — specially chief Ayman al-Zawahiri — to manage the party, with senior leaders being killed at short intervals.
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed the death but refused to give details. Unidentified officials, however, confirmed al-Libi was killed in a drone strike on his hideout in a North Waziristan village.
Al-Libi carried a reward of $1 million. He shot to fame after escaping from US custody at Bagram air base in 2005 and climbed through the ranks of al Qaeda. While more knowledgeable on theological issues, al-Libi was considered suspect at military strategy. But he is said to have made al Qaeda “cool” through the use of social media.
Carney described al-Libi as al Qaeda’s general manager, responsible for overseeing the group’s day-to-day operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan”.
Terrorism expert Jarret Brachman of North Dakota State University told AFP: “Nobody remaining in al Qaeda has his combination of scholarly credentials, personal charisma, and the ability to steer and guide al Qaeda’s global movement.”
“Not only was Libi revered, but he was loved by al Qaeda’s followers,” said Brachman.
Al-Libi is the second al Qaeda leader found in Pakistan — the Abbottabad raid on bin Laden’s hideout was the first — which considerably weakens Islamabad’s case against Drone strikes.
Pakistan has sought an end to drone strikes arguing the death of non-combatants make the war against terrorists unpopular. Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel has said al-Libi’s death is another reason for not accepting Pakistan’s demand for an end to drone strikes.
Run by the US spy agency CIA, drones are key to Obama administration’s counter-terrorism efforts. The president himself clears some key targets.
Ilyas Kashmiri of al Qaeda and Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistani Taliban, were some of the prominent targets taken out by drones.
(With agency inputs)