Afghan intelligence on Wednesday welcomed the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a master al-Qaeda propagandist targeted by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
A jihadist theologian who rose to prominence in 2005 when he escaped the U.S.-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, Abu Yahya al-Libi became a major motivational figure for al-Qaeda, masterminding its propaganda machine.
Washington said he was second-in-command to Ayman al-Zawahiri but experts say his main value was as an inspirational mouthpiece with the religious credentials other al-Qaeda leaders lacked.
“Libi’s death is very important and useful for Afghanistan. He was heading the psychological war,” said Lufullah Mashal, the spokesman for the Afghan intelligence National Directorate of Security (NDS) agency.
“I hope his death will help defeat the psychological war of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan,” he told reporters.
The White House announced Libi’s death, but refused to detail the circumstances. U.S. and Pakistani officials had confirmed he was targeted by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on Monday.
Taliban and other al-Qaeda operatives fled Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 U.S.-led invasion after the 9/11 attacks, finding refuge in Pakistan’s lawless border areas where a U.S. drone campaign targets Islamist militants.
U.S. drone missile strikes during that time period have killed at least 18 senior al-Qaeda leaders and commanders, as well as several top Taliban commanders,” reported The Los Angeles Times’ Alex Rodriguez.
U.S.-based author and expert on al-Qaeda, Seth Jones, who gave an interview with Al Arabiya early Tuesday before Libi’s killing was confirmed, said his death would be a major blow to the militant network.
“[His death] is significant in that he plays an important role in reaching out to the organization’s affiliates in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, coordinating with groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria. This all indicates that he is in a key position, and would be a significant loss [for al-Qaeda],” said Jones.
Jones also said that the surge in drone strikes or raids on al-Qaeda, particularly in Pakistan, has uncovered a significant trend.
“If you look at the pattern, where many leaders have been killed, it shows that al-Qaeda is becoming heavily penetrated in Pakistan, there are now a range of people on the ground willing to give up information on al-Qaeda leaders,” adding that this could boil down to tribal differences between the group’s members.