The White House on Tuesday confirmed the killing of al-Qaeda’s second in-command and top strategists Abu Yahya al-Libi and described his death as a “major blow” to the militant group and said there was no clear successor to take over his role.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing U.S. intelligence sources, said Libi was al-Qaeda’s “general manager” responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and managing relations with affiliates.
“We have confirmation of his death,” Carney told a news briefing, declining to say where or how the network’s deputy leader died. “There is now no clear successor to take on the breadth of his responsibilities,” he said.
Al-Libi would be the latest in the dozen-plus senior commanders removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al-Qaeda since Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden just over a year ago. Al-Libi, a hero in militant circles for his 2005 escape from an American military prison in Afghanistan, was elevated to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command spot when Ayman al-Zawahri rose to replace the slain bin Laden.
One of the intelligence officials said Pakistani authorities had intercepted telephone chatter about Libi, an al-Qaeda theologian and expert on new media whose escape from a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan in 2005 made him famous in al-Qaeda circles.
“We intercepted some conversations between militants. They were talking about the death of a ‘sheikh’,” one of the Pakistani intelligence officials said, referring to the title given to senior religious leaders.
“They did not name this person but we have checked with our sources in the area and believe they are referring to al-Libi.”
Libi, reportedly born in 1963, made repeated appearances on al-Qaeda videos and wrote prolifically, becoming one of the group’s most prominent media warriors.
A biographer, Jarret Brachman, says Libi was seen as having made al-Qaeda “cool” for a younger generation.
Pakistan on Tuesday summoned a senior U.S. diplomat and lodged a protest over drone attacks on its northwestern tribal areas which it branded “unlawful,” the foreign ministry said.
Richard Hoagland, the U.S. charge d’affaires, was called to the foreign ministry and was “officially conveyed the government’s serious concern regarding drone strikes in Pakistani territory”, the ministry said in a statement.
Hoagland was informed that the drone strikes were “unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” the statement said.
Pakistan has repeatedly criticized the drone strikes calling them counter-productive.
“The parliament had emphatically stated that they were unacceptable. Drone strikes represented a clear red-line for Pakistan,” the statement said, following a recent upsurge in the number of attacks.
The killing of al-Libi would bolster the American argument that drones are a highly effective weapon against militants.
The Pakistan government says that, while the CIA-run pilotless drone campaign has some advantages, it fuels anti-American sentiment in the country and is counterproductive because of collateral damage.
Drones are a sticking point in current talks between the United States and Pakistan aimed at repairing ties damaged by a series of events, including the recent imprisonment of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA hunt down bin Laden.