WASHINGTON – U.S. and Pakistani officials confirmed Tuesday that one of al-Qaida’s most valuable assets, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike early Monday morning near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
“Abu Yahya was among al-Qaida’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,” a U.S. official tells WTOP.
He was tracked to a village near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, which is where the strike took place. His driver and bodyguard were killed in the strike … the third in a three-day period in the area.
Al-Libi, 48, born Mohamed Hassan Qaid in Libya, had developed into one of al-Qaida’s best operational talents. He had deep connections across the militant world.
Phil Mudd, senior global analyst for Oxford Analytica, says al-Libi’s death sets al-Qaida back on several levels.
“He was a very successful spokesman for the organization. He was articulate. He was thoughtful. He had respect among Jihadists globally. I think it’s not only the loss of experienced operational leadership … it’s the loss of someone who can carry the message maybe even better that al-Qaida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.”
Richard Barrett, coordinator of the United Nation’s al-Qaida Taliban Monitoring Team, says al-Libi was elusive, but no match for the withering U.S. missile strikes that have decimated the core of al-Qaida in recent months.
“There have been two strikes against him since the end of May. In the first one, it’s believed he was wounded and [the] second one killed him,” Barrett said.
“Zawahiri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya’s shoes,” a U.S. official says. “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.”
Al-Libi, who fought to free Libya from the confines of the the late dictator Muamar Ghadafi, cast his lot with al-Qaida in the early 1990s and gained the confidence of Osama bin Laden.