IN what US officials described as a major blow to al-Qa'ida, the group's second-ranking leader, a militant known as Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a strike by a missile fired from a US-operated drone, an official has confirmed.
The official said the Libyan-born Libi (right), a cleric whose real name was Mohamed Hassan Qaid, was killed in a drone strike early on Monday morning, Pakistan time.
The drone-launched missile was targeted at a suspected militant hideout in Hesokhel, a village in North Waziristan, a tribal region in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan.
The US drone that spotted him followed him to a house in a North Waziristan tribal region and killed him, dealing another serious blow to the terrorist group's remaining core in Pakistan.
US officials said that Libi, who had appeared in al-Qa'ida propaganda videos and once escaped from a US-operated prison in Afghanistan, was a key figure in what remained of the core al-Qa'ida network founded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed last year in a US commando raid on his hideout near a Pakistani military academy.
In the wake of Bin Laden's death, officials said, Ayman al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who had been Bin Laden's long-time deputy, became the leader of al-Qa'ida's core group, advised and assisted by a small coterie of veteran militants.
US officials said Libi had recently emerged as Zawahri's principal deputy.
"Abu Yahya was among al-Qa'ida's most experienced and versatile leaders -- operational trainer and Central Shura head -- and played a critical role in the group's planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts," one official said.
Zawahri "will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya's shoes", the official added.