Drone Strike in Pakistan Kills Al-Qaida No. 2

Posted June 5th, 2012 at 4:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. officials say a drone strike in northwestern Pakistan that killed al-Qaida's second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, is “a significant blow to the terror group.”

Tuesday's confirmation of al-Libi's death came a day after missiles from a pilotless U.S. plane hit a vehicle and compound in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing at least 15 people, including foreigners. News reports quote a Pakistani Taliban who confirmed al-Libi's death and said it was “a big loss” for the terror network.

Authorities in Pakistan reported they intercepted a telephone conversation in which militants talked about the death of an Arab, and said residents of the area had believed al-Libi was in the compound at the time of the strike. Al-Qaida's deputy leader, a Libyan, reportedly had been wounded by an earlier U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on May 28.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters al-Libi's death had been confirmed. Citing U.S. intelligence sources, Carney described al-Libi as a “general manager” of al-Qaida. He said the dead militant had “experience that is hard to replicate,” and “there is no clear successor to take over his role.”

A Pentagon spokesman refused to provide details of counterterrorism operations, but said al-Libi is a “very dangerous individual, and for him to no longer be walking the Earth would be a good thing for everybody.” The spokesman, John Kirby, said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made it very clear that the United States will deal with threats to the security of the U.S. and its allies “wherever they are.”

Reuters news agency reported it contacted the unnamed Pakistani Taliban leader who acknowledged al-Libi's death. He confirmed that “after Doctor Sahib” – meaning al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri – “al-Libi was the main al-Qaida leader.”

Counterterrorism experts said al-Libi had been running al-Qaida's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal regions and keeping up links to regional affiliates. He escaped from prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005 and appeared in a series of propaganda videos before rising to become the terror group's deputy leader last year. The U.S. government had placed a $1 million price on his head.

The drone strike that killed al-Libi on Monday was the third such attack in as many days. Together the airstrikes killed at least 27 people.

Pakistan's foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned Deputy U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland to convey “serious concern regarding drone strikes in Pakistani territory.” The ministry called the strikes “unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty,” and a “red-line” for the country. It also noted that Pakistan's parliament had “emphatically stated” that drone strikes are “unacceptable.”

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have been at a low point since the U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan last year that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and other incidents, including the accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO airstrike just across the border from Afghanistan.