White House Says al-Qaeda’s No. 2 Killed

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A drone strike in Pakistan has netted a big fish: al-Qaeda’s No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Asked about al-Libi’s reported death at Tuesday’s White House briefing, Carney initially was equivocal: “I can tell you that our intelligence community has intelligence that leads them to believe that al-Qaida’s number two leader, al-Libi, is dead,” he said. His intelligence apparently got better moments later when he was asked about it again. “Our government has been able to confirm al-Libi’s death.” he said flatly.

“Removing leaders like al-Libi from the very top of al-Qaida,” Carney added, “is part of an ongoing effort to disrupt and dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaida, and that is an important piece of business.”

al-Libi had been deputy to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s, who has run al-Qaeda since Osama bin Laden’s fate was SEALed. al-Libi had been imprisoned at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for three years before escaping in 2005 and returning to the fight. “He is one of their most experienced and versatile leaders,” a U.S. official told Time’s Michael Scherer. “He played a key role in their operations against the West.”

Pakistani intelligence sources told Reuters the al-Qaeda second in command was hit in a drone attack on Monday, June 4. “The intelligence official said, according to informants, Libi was seriously wounded in the strike and was taken to a private hospital, where he died,” Reuters reports from Pakistan. (Take a closer look at Libi here.)

This is a solid win in the so-called war on terrorism. al-Libi was the link between al-Qaeda and its most feared franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The fact that he is the second al-Qaeda deputy in less than a year to be killed will hamper Zawahiri’s efforts to replace him. It also will be a blow to morale throughout al-Qaeda’s ranks, U.S. officials believe.

The U.S. has had a standing reward of up to $1 million for al-Libi’s killing or capture. “Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan citizen, is an Islamic scholar who … has since appeared in a number of propaganda videos, using his religious training to influence people and legitimize the actions of al-Qa´ida,” says the State Department post. “Al-Libi is a key motivator in the global jihadi movement and his messages convey a clear threat to U.S. persons or property worldwide.”

A key card has been removed from the deck of potential terrorism targets weighed by President Obama on Tuesdays.