Abu Yahya al Libi killed in latest drone strike, US officials say

Abu Yahya al Libi.

US intelligence officials said they believe that Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s general manager who is often referred to as its second in command, and a top religious figure and ideologue, was killed in yesterday’s drone strike in Pakistan.

Two US intelligence officials involved in the targeting of al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists in Pakistan told The Long War Journal that al Libi is thought to be among 15 people killed in yesterday’s strike in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. The officials would not say how they confirmed that al Libi had been killed.

A Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters that his unit “intercepted some conversations between militants” and that “[t]hey were talking about the death of a ‘sheikh,'” who is assumed to be al Libi. Local Pakistanis in the Mir Ali area said that “militants” quickly cordoned off the areas and conducted rescue operations. Some local tribesmen said that al Libi was wounded and died at a private hospital in the area.

Al Qaeda has not released an official martyrdom statement announcing al Libi’s death. However, As Sahab, the terror group’s propaganda arm, often takes days, weeks, or even months before releasing a martyrdom statement on the death of a top leader.

One US intelligence official cautioned that the best confirmation of al Libi’s death will be a statement from al Qaeda. Al Libi was rumored to have been killed once before, in December 2009.

Pakistani Taliban leaders have differed on whether al Libi was killed or not. One Taliban leader denied that al Libi had been killed and said the US has “resorted to making false claims” as it was suffering a defeat in the region. Another local Taliban leader told The Associated Press that al Libi’s driver and bodyguard were killed but the al Qaeda leader survived. Another Taliban leader told Reuters that al Libi’s death is a “big loss” and that he was “the main al Qaeda leader” after Ayman al Zawahiri.

Al Libi is known to operate in North Waziristan. In the fall of 2011, he was among several al Qaeda leaders who helped to broker the creation of the Shura-e-Murakeba, a Taliban alliance consisting of four major Taliban groups that operate in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The four groups in the alliance are: the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud; Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; Mullah Nazir’s group; and the Haqqani Network. The leadership of each group has appointed a deputy to represent them on the council.

Al Libi is the seventh senior al Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death in May 2011. The others are: Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of al Qaeda’s military and a member of the external operations council; Atiyah abd al Rahman, bin Laden’s former chief of staff and Zawahiri’s previous deputy; Abu Miqdad al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis who also was involved in al Qaeda’s external operations; Badr Mansoor, al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan and a key link to the Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups; Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations; and Abu Hafs al Shahri, a senior leader who served as the operations chief for Pakistan. Additionally, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, propagandist, and religious figure, in a drone strike in Yemen.

Background on al Libi

Al Libi was a top leader in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a military commander in Afghanistan until his capture by US forces in 2003. He rose to prominence in al Qaeda after he escaped from Bagram Prison in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005, along with senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Nasir al Qahtani, Abu Abdallah al Shami, and Omar Farouq. Al Libi is the only member of the notorious “Bagram Four” active in al Qaeda. Two of his fellow escapees (al Qahtani and al Shami) have been killed and another (Farouq) has been captured since the 2005 escape.

Al Libi’s escape from Bagram and subsequent mocking of the US in propaganda tapes have made him a star in al Qaeda. The US State Department has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest and prosecution.

He has become one of al Qaeda’s most prolific propagandists. Between 2006 and 2010, he has appeared in more al Qaeda propaganda tapes than any other member of the terror group, including bin Laden and Zawahiri. He has weighed in on some of the most controversial and important issues on al Qaeda’s agenda. He was the first al Qaeda leader to urge the Pakistani people and the Army to turn against then-President Pervez Musharraf’s regime after the military stormed the radical Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad.

Al Libi is considered to be a combative leader. He has chastised Islamists who denounced al Qaeda’s methods and ideology, and has urged clerics to come fight against Americans and NATO and wage real jihad instead of criticizing al Qaeda.

He stepped into the role of chief of staff for Ayman al Zawahiri after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special operations forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Al Libi, who had previously served as deputy to Atiyah abd al Rahman, was elevated to second in command after Atiyah’s death in a drone strike.

Can al Qaeda replace al Libi?

One US official told The New York Times that al Qaeda will have a difficult time finding a replacement for al Libi.

“Zawahri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya’s shoes — in addition to his gravitas as a longstanding member of AQ’s leadership, Abu Yahya’s religious credentials gave him the authority to issue fatwas, operational approvals, and guidance to the core group in Pakistan and regional affiliates,” the official told The New York Times. “There is no one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost.”

However, al Qaeda has been able to replace past leaders who have been killed or captured after the US launched its war against al Qaeda and allied terror groups since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

While al Libi was an influential religious leader, one US intelligence official familiar with al Qaeda’s network told The Long War Journal that al Qaeda did not rely on al Libi alone to provide religious guidance and approval for fatwas.

“Al Qaeda has an established religious committee,” the official said. “Al Libi was an important member, without a doubt, but he didn’t operate in a vacuum.”

One such prominent member of al Qaeda’s religious committee is Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, who is also known as a Abu Zeid al Kuwaiti. Al Husainan is “a former imam in the Kuwaiti Endowments Ministry” who “has appeared in dozens of as Sahab videos since August 2009, some lecturing on jihad and others speaking on Islam in general,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Al Husainan is “presented as an al Qaeda religious scholar,” SITE stated.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    “…said that al Libi was WOUNDED and died…,” evidence that one’s prayers are sometimes answered.

  • Stephanie says:

    If I remember correctly, a while ago you reported that the White House claimed that Al-Libi and Ayman al-Zawahiri were the only “HVTs” left in al-Qaida. Does this mean that Ayman al-Zawahiri is now the only HVT left according to the White House’s logic? What does that mean for the future of the US’s military involvement in Pakistan? And speculating that al-Zawahiri might be hiding in a hard-to-reach location not easily accessible to drones without massive damage and civilian casulaties, what is the prognosis for him and how might they go about bringing him to justice?

  • Witch Doctor says:

    AQ can find a replacement, but not somebody with the same connections or attitude regarding Jihad. This was a good hit and a victory for the people bringing the fight to the terrorist leaders.
    You can run, but apparently not hide. Not even in Pakistan. Hey, what’s that in the sky, is it a bird, a plane, no it’s a flying ticket to paradise!
    Check out this book if you get a chance, “Taliban and Anti-Taliban by Farhet Taj. It is very detailed regarding the history, mind-set , and strategy of the terrorists (Pakhtuns and foreigners) residing in the FATA.
    Happy hunting!

  • Tony Buzan says:

    Is there any consensus on what region Zawahiri is located in presently?

  • Rod says:

    Love him or hate him I think all will agree that Obama’s increased use of the drone program has been very effective in eliminating top level Al Qaeda members. Interestingly all of the seven recent leaders killed were inside Pakistan. Maybe it is time to give up on bribing the Pakistanis into allowing the overland supply route, it is obvious that they are playing a double game.

  • chris murphy says:

    love this site. thank you, people who work this site. you do a great job.

  • JT says:

    Good comments on this thread. With the possibility of the drones strikes decreasing overall (peak in 2010, possibly – see https://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes.php),
    I wonder what the future has in store for Yemen, where the strikes are on the up swing. https://www.longwarjournal.org/multimedia/Yemen/code/Yemen-strike.php
    The low level types must be scrambling to establish a new haven, and are trying Yemen. Hopefully, the Yemen govt. will cooperate against these types who wish the world to be Islam-or-die.

  • cj says:

    Another jihadi criminal out of this world. Pakistan is the root cause of all these criminals ‘butt sniff khans and asswipe mohammeds” popping up…

  • James says:

    Indeed, it is a good thing that al Libi has been eliminated.
    As far as Zawahiri is concerned, Zawahiri is old and decrepit. He may just be more of a liability to at least the recruiting efforts of aq than an asset.
    It may be better to just let him ‘wither away’ on the vine. Who knows, it may be already that the CIA have the hairs on his head numbered.
    I say keep going after and eliminating at least the senior leadership of aq (possibly excluding Zawahiri at least for the time being).
    There is little doubt in my mind that eventually with such a strategy that these thugs will ultimately turn against and [hopefully] annihilate each other.

  • Lorenz Gude says:

    I can’t help but notice that drone strikes seem to have gotten more accurate over time. A great many of the stories here in the past were of near misses of false claims by Pakistani sources. It seems the CIA is getting better at it! While cheap readily available automatic weapons, like the AK 47, has given insurgents an asymmetrical advantage over organized armies, the drone strengthens the hand of modern armies. Castro could operate with impunity in Cuba’s Oriente Province in the late fifties, just as the Taliban have been able to operate in Af-Pak until the advent of the drone. !00 years ago the British Army was able to put down rebellion after rebellion just as, until recently, any insurgency – communist or islamist – was deemed unstoppable in the popular imagination. As nasty as drone strikes are they are proving a symmetrical response terrorism.

  • rob says:

    Zechariah 5:1-5
    Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll!* And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits. (30x15ft)” Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side. I will send it out, declares the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.
    *Predator slung with 2 Hellfire missiles.

  • John Kennard says:

    A lot of work-related accidents in the Islamist terrorist trade.
    If only we were as effective against plutocrats as theocrats.

  • Eddie D. says:

    Good shot! Zawahiri you are next so get ready, the reaper is coming for YOU!

  • Alex M says:

    No doubt this is a great kill (if it is indeed true) but lets not forget about Saif Al Adel and Adnan Shukrijumah. Both of whom are “old school” Al-Qaeda players with vast connections and experience equal or greater than even Al-Libi, and they’ve been evading us for quite a long time now. In my opinion, they are more of an operational threat than even Zawahiri himself when it comes to external operations. Once those two are finally eliminated, then we can say with more confidence that the original core of Al-Qaeda is truly incapacitated in the sense that there’s really no other operatives remaining that possess decades of experience and connections as they did.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    GOOD!…Zawahiri is next to get waxed:)

  • Devin Leonard says:

    ROD-I agree. Obama has been very good at using the drone program and Spec Ops to kill and capture high ranking Al Qaida (see Bin Laden)and Taliban members. I personally like Obama so maybe I am biased, and probably won’t garner many admirers on this site for saying so…but he has IMHO proved an effective wartime leader in Afghanistan and especially against Al Qaida and the Taliban/Haqanni network.

  • Charu says:

    To give credit where it’s due, this President has been bolder and more focused in taking out HVTs than the previous occupant. Too bad that his options are limited wen it comes to a rogue nuclear state like Pakistan.
    Zawahiri is likely hiding out in Hafiz Saeed’s mansion in Lahore. If Saeed cannot be captured, then General Musharraf, who lives comfortably in London and travels frequently to the US to appear on TV talk shows, would probably do just as well. He would quickly spill out all of the ISI’s secrets if he were ever subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and the Taliban leadership including the Haqqanis would then all be taken out in no time after that. But first, ‘accidental’ explosions that wipe out the Pakistani fertilizer factories which provide the materials for IEDs would be in order.

  • mike merlo says:

    re: Tony Buzan
    Zawahiri – hard money has him transiting an upside down J from the Waziristans through FATA fish hooking through Kyber Paktunkwha into Azad Jammu & Punjab. Based on what now has come to light concerning bin Laden it appears Zawahiri has essentially been working the same ‘rat lines’ with more of emphasis on FATA & the north western parts of Khyber Paktunkwha.
    Personally I think he is in Sudan. With the expanding theater of the Sahara & Arabian Peninsula & with Tunisia, Libya & Egypt in play I think its just to tempting of a target for him to ignore. One of his constant themes has been his animus towards Egypt.
    I just can’t imagine Zawahiri passing up an opportunity of an Egypt in flux. And its not like Egypt is alone. The only 2 places not seemingly affected yet are Jordan & Algeria. Everything else is either border line free for all or modulating between ‘it.’

  • Witch Doctor says:

    @Devin, it does not matter what side of the aisle you stand on.
    President Obama is getting it done. Bush and Cheney had just plain given up on it as far as the American public could see. I wonder why we did not get the go ahead order to off that 6 foot creep in Tora Bora. We all know we could have.
    ODA 555!

  • Tony Buzan says:

    Thanks Mike Merlo, that is consistent with my hunches.
    Zawahiri is VERY much interested in the development of AQ in North Africa and that whole theatre is changing so rapidly it is indeed consistent with him being in the vicinity, reconnecting with his extensive networks there.

  • TMP says:

    The notion that Obama has been more effective / hard on AQ is just silly (as compared to GWB).
    The reality is the whole logistic capabiliites, the whole Intel fusion cells that allow for these strikes are were built from the ground up under GWB. The whole notion of Drone strikes came from the GWB Admin (and was attacked by the Left and media, to boot!).
    The reality of AQ being isolated into the hills of Pak border region and at the mercy of Pucktoon hillbillies for cover is all because of the constant pressure put on them prior to Obama being in office. Hell, most of the Intel that lead to the UBL raid was gathered during the GWB years and some of it in ways the left was against.
    The whole ability of SOCOM to be as effective as they are today is because of GWB and SecDef Rumself Who made SOCOM (spec ops) their own fighting Command.

  • Tom Kelleher says:

    “Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. …. I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.”
    George W. Bush, White House Press Conference, March 12, 2002

  • mike merlo says:

    re:Tony Buzan
    thank you. I know my views are not something exclusive to me. TLWJ has on multiple occasions more than just hinted at the various scenario’s that could or are ‘playing’ out. Providing anybody with more than just a cursory interest in whats transpiring ‘knowledge tools’ to responsibly expand on what they suspect or ‘hunch.’
    They Defense establishment & the Intelligence Community should create an open source forum much in the same way the tech community ‘open sources’ code to allow for an expansion & inclusion of ideas, thoughts, theories etc., to assist in the identification threats & conflicts emerging or otherwise.

  • Tony Buzan says:

    Mike, for example I note that Zawahiri released a tape late last month calling for declaration of an Islamic State in the Sahel area including Mali….
    Within 36 hours, Ansar Dine had done precisely that.
    I’m not ready to exclude close collaboration of Zawahiri with AQIM and other bad actors.
    A few years back he stated AQIM would be the “bone in the throat of Europe.”
    I think it’s fair to say that the trajectory of Islamic fanatics in the Sahel and in the Maghreb has been consistently underestimated.
    And Libya opened a Pandora’s box?


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram