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U.S. official: Al Qaeda No. 2 killed by U.S. drone
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A U.S. drone strike has killed al Qaeda’s second-in-command, an American official said Tuesday, a significant blow to the terror network that has lost a string of top leaders since the death of Osama bin Laden last year.
Abu Yahya al-Libi was considered a media-savvy, charismatic leader who escaped from an American prison in Afghanistan and helped preside over the transformation of al-Qaida into a terror movement aimed at winning converts around the world.
The American official who confirmed al-Libi’s death said no one left in al Qaeda comes close to replacing the expertise the group has just lost. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Al-Libi was killed Monday morning. Pakistani officials had previously said that eight militants died in a drone strike in the Pakistani village of Khassu Khel in the North Waziristan tribal area.
Al-Libi, a hero in militant circles for his 2005 escape from an American military prison in Afghanistan, was elevated to al Qaeda’s No. 2 spot when Ayman al-Zawahri rose to replace bin Laden shortly after the terror leader was killed in May 2, 2011.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They said the mud and brick house was destroyed in the attack. A vehicle used by al-Libi was destroyed during the strike, said one of the officials.
The intelligence officials also declined to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The Taliban chief spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the Pakistani army.
The U.S. has carried out a flurry of drone strikes recently — seven in less than two weeks — some of which appear to have been trying to target al-Libi. The al-Qaida deputy appeared to have been injured in one of those strikes, although there were conflicting accounts as to which.
Pakistani intelligence officials said al-Libi had been slightly injured in a May 28 attack in a village near Khassu Khel, where he then moved. The Taliban chief said the strike that wounded al-Libi was two days earlier in a different village.
The White House maintains a list of terrorist targets to be killed or captured, compiled by the military and the CIA and ultimately approved by the president.
The stepping up of drone strikes since late May follows a relative lull driven by tensions between Washington and Islamabad over American airstrikes last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan seized the opportunity to renegotiate its relationship with the U.S. and demanded Washington stop drone strikes in the country — a demand the U.S. has ignored. The attacks are unpopular in Pakistan because many people believe they mostly kill civilians, an allegation disputed by the U.S.
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