PESHAWAR/DERA ISMAIL KHAN (Reuters) - Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of al Qaeda's top strategists and seen as the most prominent figure in the network after leader Ayman al Zawahri, may have been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence officials said on Tuesday.
If his death is confirmed it would be the biggest blow to al Qaeda since U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a secret raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
U.S. sources said Libi, a Libyan cleric with a degree in chemistry who has survived previous attacks by drone aircraft, was a target of a strike early on Monday in northwest Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, home to some of the world's most notorious militant groups.
Sajjan Gohel, chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation security research consultancy, said Libi was one of the few remaining key figures within al Qaeda's core.
"Libi has also been at the center of al Qaeda's plans to reconstitute itself and try and remount a trans-national terror campaign. This is one of the reasons he was viewed as a high value target," he told Reuters by email.
Some U.S. officials describe Libi, whose real name is Mohamed Hassan Qaid, as number two to Zawahri, the former Egyptian doctor who took over al Qaeda after bin Laden's death.
Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters they believe Libi, which means Libyan in Arabic, may have been among seven foreign militants killed in Monday's strike by a drone aircraft.
One of the 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 Libi."
The intelligence official said according to informants, Libi was seriously wounded in the strike and was taken to a private hospital where he died.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Top al Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi may have been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan