President Obama boasts that 22 of Al-Qaeda’s top 30 leaders have been killed on his watch, mostly by drone strikes (The Long War Journal doubts this claim). That number just grew to 23, with U.S. officials confirming that Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
This is devastating for Al-Qaeda. Libi was the second-in-command of the group, only surpassed by Ayman al-Zawahiri in importance. He performed many roles for the group: As the “gatekeeper” between field operatives and the leadership; an administrator in Al-Qaeda’s Shura Council; a terrorist trainer; an operations manager; a dynamic spokesman, releasing more tapes than any other Al-Qaeda figure in recent years and a cleric, drawing upon his advanced religious education in Mauritania to preach and issue fatwas with authority.
“There is no one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise Al -Qaeda has just lost,” a U.S. official said.
Libi’s escape from America’s Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan brought his reputation to a whole new level. He was captured in 2002 and held until July 2005 when he and several of his terrorist colleagues (including Al-Qaeda’s former top operative in Southeast Asia) snuck out of the maximum-security prison. The terrorists took careful watch of the facility’s security procedures, identifying loopholes. Somehow, they were able to pick the locks on their jail cells, change their outfits and crawl over a wall. One of their terrorist friends was waiting in a truck. The escape set off a fruitless manhunt.
The strike happened in the village of Hassu Khel, a village near Mir Ali, in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The drone blew up the compound he was staying at and a pickup truck next to it, killing a total of 16 people. One resident says that Libi was there recovering from an injury he suffered in another drone strike that happened on May 28.
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