WASHINGTON / PESHAWAR: A US official has confirmed that the al Qaeda deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official told The Express Tribune that the AQ leader was amongst the group’s most “experienced and versatile leaders.” The official said that Abu Yahya al Libi was an operational trainer and head of the Central Shura head, and “played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts.”
Abu Yahya al Libi was reportedly killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on Monday morning. That strike had killed at least 15 people, one of the largest tolls in a single attack.
The White House also confirmed the kill. “We have confirmation of his death,” spokesperson Jay Carney told a news briefing, however he declined to say where or how the network’s deputy leader died. He, however, described the incident as a “major blow” to the militant group.
A US official said that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda “will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya’s shoes.” Explaining why that would be difficult, he added that “in addition to his gravitas as a longstanding member of AQ’s leadership, Abu Yahya’s religious credentials gave him the authority to issue fatwas, operational approvals, and guidance to the core group in Pakistan and regional affiliates.”
“There is no one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost,” said the US official.
Earlier, reports quoting US officials had said that the strike in North Waziristan, the third in as many days, had targeted Libi. However, it was unconfirmed at the time whether the strike had managed to achieve its target.
Libi had risen to become al Qaeda’s no. 2 after al-Zawahiri was elevated to the post of chief in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.
For the US this would be the latest trump card to suggest its controversial drone strike is reaping benefits.
Pakistan, on the other hand, on Tuesday summoned US charge d’affaires to the foreign ministry to convey serious ‘concerns’ and to lodge a formal protest against the ‘illegal’ and ‘counterproductive’ strikes.
Taliban mourn ‘big loss’
A senior Pakistani Taliban leader said on Tuesday that the death of al Qaeda’s second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan was a “big loss”.
“After Doctor Sahib (al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri), he was the main al Qaeda leader,” the Pakistani Taliban leader, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Libi’s death is yet to be independently verified. The al Qaeda, or any of its affiliates too have not yet issued any statements which confirm or deny his death.