U.S. sees ‘degradation’ of al Qaeda organization

No successor seen after death of No. 2

A U.S. drone strike has killed a top al Qaeda operative, and the White House said Tuesday that the terrorist group was left with “no clear successor.”

Abu Yahya al-Libi, described as the second-ranking operative in al Qaeda, was hit by a drone attack on a house and was taken to a hospital, where he died. Pakistani intelligence sources told Reuters that the strike was carried out Monday.

The White House, as is its practice, would not confirm a drone was used in the attack but verified al-Libi’s death.

“He served as al Qaeda’s general manager, responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. He said the killing was part of the ongoing “degradation” of al Qaeda’s ranks by U.S. forces and allies.

“There is now no clear successor to take on the breadth of his responsibilities,” Mr. Carney said. “Al-Libi’s death is a major blow to core al Qaeda, removing the No. 2 leader for the second time in less than a year.”

He said it “puts additional pressure” on al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, “to try to manage the group in an effective way.”

The strike was carried out a little more than a year after a Navy SEAL team killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in a house in Pakistan. Mr. Carney said al-Libi’s killing resulted in “further damaging the group’s morale and cohesion and bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever before.”

Al-Libi was considered a media-savvy, charismatic leader who escaped from a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan and helped preside over the transformation of al Qaeda into a terrorist movement aimed at winning converts around the world.

Al-Libi was the latest in the dozen-plus senior commanders removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al Qaeda since the Navy SEALs killed bin Laden.

Pakistani officials 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 al-Zawahri rose to replace bin Laden shortly after the terrorist leader was killed on May 2, 2011.

The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program had set a $1 million reward for information leading to al-Libi, who had recorded numerous propaganda videos urging attacks on U.S. targets.

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 also was destroyed during the strike, said one of the officials.

A local Taliban chief said earlier Monday that al-Libi was not present at the house, though his guard and driver were killed in the attack.

The intelligence officials declined to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The Taliban chief spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the Pakistani army.

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