Al-Qa'ida deputy leader killed in US drone strike
ABU Yahya al Libi, a Libyan-born top al-Qa'ida leader, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan earlier this week, US officials said yesterday.
Libi was viewed by American counter-terrorism experts as second-in-command of the core al-Qa'ida group led by Ayman al Zawahiri.
Zawahiri has headed the group since al-Qa'ida's founder Osama bin Laden was killed last year in a US commando raid on his hideout in Pakistan.
Libi "was among al- Qa'ida's most experienced and versatile leaders" and he "played a critical role in the group's planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts", a US official said yesterday.
Earlier, Pakistani militants had claimed that Libi had cheated death after American officials confirmed they had launched a drone strike against him, during which missiles destroyed his vehicle and a militant compound in North Waziristan, leaving 15 dead.
Confirming the deaths of militant leaders in drone strikes is very difficult. It can take weeks for the truth to emerge.
The death of Libi is a major blow to what is left of al-Qai'da's core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He is among more than 12 senior leaders assassinated since Bin Laden was tracked down and killed by US Navy Seals in May last year.
Three separate drone strikes were launched from last Saturday to Monday, killing at least 30 people, according to local sources.
Two missiles slammed into a compound and a vehicle in the village of Hesokhel, near Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, before dawn.
Pakistan condemned the drone strike, summoning the US charge d'affaires to express its "serious concerns" over the tactic.
The attack was launched at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Islamabad, following the conviction two weeks ago of a doctor who helped to track down Bin Laden.
Libi carried a $1m (€800,000) US bounty on his head and was captured in 2002 by NATO forces. He escaped three years later.
Analysts believe he served as al-Qa'ida's "general manager", overseeing operations in Pakistan's tribal belt and responsible for liaising with other militant groups in the area.
Ben Venzke, an analyst at the US-based IntelCenter, said that Libi's death would be a severe blow to international jihadi groups.
Drone strikes are highly controversial in Pakistan, where many believe they serve as a recruiting agent for al-Qa'ida.
But a letter retrieved from Bin Laden's Pakistani hideout shows how effective they have been. In it, the former leader warned his "brothers" in North Waziristan to travel only under cloud cover in order to thwart the drones.
The rate of attacks has slowed during the past year as relations between Washington and Islamabad soured.
However, they have intensified in ferocity during the past fortnight after the US and Pakistan failed to reach an agreement over NATO supply lines.
The Pakistani parliament has asked for an end to the strikes as part of a deal to allow NATO supplies through its territory to Afghanistan.(©Daily Telegraph, London)