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Deputy al-Qaida leader killed in Pakistan, White House confirms

AFP/IntelCenter/Getty Images

This still image from video obtained on Oct. 18, 2011courtesy of IntelCenter shows al-Qaida's as-Sahab's video statement from Abu Yahya al-Libi on Algeria.


The White House on Tuesday confirmed the death of deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, calling his death a “major blow” to the terrorist group.

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White House spokesman Jay Carney would not confirm al-Libi’s death occurred as a result of a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, part of  Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area, though Pakistani security sources said he died in  a pre-dawn attack there that killed 15 insurgents, the last in a series of three U.S. drone attacks over the weekend.

“I can’t get into details about how his death was brought about, but I can tell you that he served as al-Qaida’s general manger, responsible for overseeing the group’s day-to-day operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan and he managed the outreach to al-Qaida’s regional affiliates,” Carney said.

“We believe al-Libi’s death is a major blow to core al-Qaida, removing the No. 2 leader for the second time in last than a year and further damaging the group’s morale and cohesion and bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever before.”

While al-Libi had previously been reported killed in 2009, an Internet post on a jihadist website on Tuesday suggested that he did  not escape death this time.

A senior moderator on Al-Qaida's top-ranked, password-protected Shamukh web forum early in the day urged other users to "pray for our brothers in Waziristan, as the situation does not please the believers." 

"One of the beloved brothers from the mujahideen in Waziristan corresponded privately with me and asked me to open a thread in which we can ask for prayers for our mujahideen brothers,” the author wrote. “The situation is bad there ... and he told me some news and asked me not to reveal it to anyone now.”

The post was quickly removed from the forum a short time later.

Al-Libi, or "the Libyan" in Arabic, believed to be 39 years old, was one of the most influential propagandists in al-Qaida and one of its best known leaders. U.S. officials, speaking with NBC News on condition of anonymity, characterized him as irreplaceable in his expertise, ability and influence.


Al-Qaida leaders killed or captured (click to enlarge).

Al-Libi drew much of his credibility from having escaped a U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on the night of July 10, 2005. He subsequently appeared in more than 30 videos produced by al Shahab, the al-Qaida media wing, and other militant sites. In December 2009, Pakistani officials erroneously reported he had been killed in a Predator strike, further enhancing his image.

U.S. officials say unlike many al-Qaida propagandists, he also was a seasoned fighter.

In May 2011, shortly after bin Laden was killed, U.S. officials identified Abu Yahya as one of five potential successors to the slain al-Qaida leaders.  The leading candidate, Ayman al Zawahiri, ultimately did succeed bin Laden.  The other four potential successors now have all been killed in drone strikes.

Ilyas Kashmiri, al-Qaida’s director of external operations, was killed on June 3. Abdul Rahman Atiya, bin Laden’s chief of staff, was killed Aug. 22. Both of those attacks took place in northwestern Pakistan. Anwar al Awlaki, a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and an American citizen, was killed in Yemen, also in a drone strike, on Sept. 30.

The White House confirmed the death of deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, believed to rank second in the organization. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

With the leadership of the core al-Qaida group in Pakistan now decimated, U.S. officials have increasingly used drone attacks against the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and master bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Nasiri. 

The U.S. also is openly helping the new Yemeni government in counterinsurgency efforts against an AQAP-affiliated group, Ansar al-Sharia, in the south of the country. The assistance includes “a small contingent” of military trainers and intelligence officers assisting the Yemeni forces.

Jim Miklaszewski is chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News; Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer. Shawna Thomas, an NBC News producer at the White House, and Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News terrorism analyst, also contributed to this report.

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