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dinsdag, juni 05, 2012

Al Qaeda leader 'target of drone strike'

Abu Yahya al-Libi has appeared frequently in videos on the Internet, including one in 2006 by an al Qaeda-linked media group.
Abu Yahya al-Libi has appeared frequently in videos on the Internet, including one in 2006 by an al Qaeda-linked media group.
  • NEW: A Pakistani official says it takes a week to ID drone strike victims
  • Investigators are trying to determine whether Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed in the strike
  • The militant is a Libyan and a prominent al Qaeda face on the Internet
  • The drone strike, in North Waziristan, was the 21st in Pakistan this year

(CNN) -- Abu Yahya al-Libi, the No. 2 man in al Qaeda and a longtime public face of the terror network, has been targeted by a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

Investigators are trying to determine whether al-Libi was injured or killed in the Monday hit, which left 15 militants dead and three wounded, the official said. Intelligence officials may find out al-Libi's fate only from monitoring websites and chatter, according to the official.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official said the government can't confirm or deny al-Libi's death.

The Pakistani official said it takes a week to identify militants who are killed in drone strikes.

"The U.S. doesn't tell us before targeting any militant," he said. "We come to know once the target is hit," the official said.

It was the third such deadly attack in as many days and the 21st suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan this year in the fight against al Qaeda. The drone fired at least six missiles at a militant compound near the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan region near the Afghanistan border.

Official: 15 militants killed in suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan

Reports emerged a couple of years ago that al-Libi was slain but they proved to be incorrect. If the militant were killed, it would be one of the most important strikes against al Qaeda along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border since U.S. Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden last year.

After bin Laden's death, Ayman al-Zawahiri became the group's leader and al-Libi was elevated to No. 2 in the terror organization.

Al Qaeda's leadership has been so thinned by the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan that these men are the only two real leaders of the organization left, U.S. counterterrorism officials said, according to CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen. As that entity struggles, other al Qaeda offshoots, such as the group's affiliate in Yemen, have become more potent and worrisome to the United States.

An Islamic scholar and high-ranking member of the group, al-Libi frequently appears in Internet videos. He has given many videotaped speeches praising al Qaeda leaders, urging resistance and trying to recruit new members.

"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," said a "Wanted" statement posted on the website of the U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program, which offers rewards for information on suspected terrorists.

Read more about drones on CNN's Security Clearance blog

"Al-Libi is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan," said the website, which offered a reward of up to $1 million for the 49-year-old Libyan.

Al-Libi purportedly was among al Qaeda leaders working in Libya since last year to establish a presence there.

In a video message to fellow Libyans distributed on jihadist forums in December, al-Libi said: "At this crossroads you have found yourselves, you either choose a secular regime that pleases the greedy crocodiles of the West and for them to use it as a means to fulfill their goals, or you take a strong position and establish the religion of Allah."

Al-Libi was captured in 2002 and imprisoned at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. government, but he escaped in 2005.

In 2008, a statement posted on radical Islamic websites known to carry messages from al Qaeda described how four "military leaders" including al-Libi escaped from the prison, but the statement said then that one of the escapees, Abu Abdallah al-Shami, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike.

The statement said that among those escaping with al-Shami was key al Qaeda figure Omar al-Faruq. Faruq died in a British airstrike after the escape.

Another escapee, Abu Nasir al-Qahtani, was captured in Afghanistan in 2006. Al-Shami's death left al-Libi as the only remaining member of that escape who had not been killed or captured.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration recently justified its use of unmanned drones to target suspected terrorists overseas in a rare public statement, with John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, saying the strikes are conducted "in full accordance with the law."

The program utilizes unmanned aerial vehicles, often equipped with Hellfire missiles, to target suspected terrorist operatives in remote locations overseas, with many such strikes occurring in Yemen and Pakistan, despite some internal opposition within the latter country.

Brennan said the United States "respects national sovereignty and international law" and is guided by the laws of war in ordering those attacks.

The Pakistani border area is widely believed to be the operating base for the Haqqani network and other militant groups that have attacked international troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Reza Sayah contributed to this report.


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