by Major General (rtd) Afsir Karim
Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda's number two was reported killed on Monday (June 4) in a US drone strike along with 15 other people in the Mir Ali region in North Waziristan. Another media report suggested he was killed near the North Waziristan village of Hassu Khel, by a U.S. Hellfire missile.
According to locals of Mir Ali al Libi was wounded in this strike and died later at a private hospital in this area. Some Pakistani Taliban sources deny that al Libi was killed in this drone attack; they claim that only his driver and bodyguard were killed and he survived the strike.
Whatever the truth, Al Qaeda has not released any statement about al Libi's death and messages posted by Ansar and Alfidaa al-Qaeda websites suggest Libi is still alive. However, generally al-Qaeda does not issue any immediate statement on the death of a top leader. Al-Libi’s death will be finally confirmed if and when al-Qaeda announces his death.
Abu Yahya al-Libi was among the younger generation of al Qaeda leaders. He was a religious scholar and an ardent advocate of universal jihad.
The killing of al-Libi, if confirmed, will be another big success coming within thirteen months of Osama bin laden's demise in May 2011. Al Libi will be the seventh senior al Qaeda leader killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. His death will leave only Ayman al Zawahiri among the top leaders though another five prominent ones still remain unscathed.
Al-Libi (real name: Hasan Muhamad Qayed) was born in Marzaq in the remote Sabha province of Libya. He was captured in 2003 but managed to escape from the US Bagram Prison in 2005. He rose in stature within al Qaeda after his escape from Bagram Prison along with some senior al Qaeda fighters. Al Libi was the most popular al-Qaeda leader in North Waziristan as he played a leading role here in brokering a deal among four major Taliban groups that operate from Pakistan's tribal areas.
Al- Libi was the most prolific propagandists for al-Qaeda; he has appeared in more al Qaeda propaganda tapes than any other member of the core group. He was admired by rank and file because he advocated an unrelenting struggle against the western world and urged all Muslims to join the fight to drive out the US-NATO forces out of AF-Pak. He denounced those Islamic organisations that opposed al Qaeda's methods and ideology, and convinced most such critics to wage a violent and no hold barred holy war against America and its supporters.
As regards South Asia, he succeeded in motivating a segment of the military in Pakistan to turn against General Musharraf after he ordered the storming the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007. 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.. The charismatic al Libi assumed the role of second in command of Ayman al Zawahiri without much opposition after Osama bin Laden was killed.
It will not be easy for Zawahri to find a replacement for al- Libi because in addition to combat experience, al-libi had high religious credentials that gave him the authority to issue fatwas, and he was held in high esteem by the radical groups of Pakistan and other regional affiliates. However al Libi was not the only one to provide religious guidance or issue fatwas, for al- Qaeda has an established religious committee which deals with Fatwas and other religious affairs.
In the past al Qaeda has been able to find suitable replacements of leaders who have been killed or captured by the US forces. The most likely replacement of al-libi is a prominent member of al Qaeda's religious committee, Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, also known as Abu Zeid al Kuwaiti, who was a former imam in the Kuwaiti Endowments Ministry.
Al-LIbi was considered the foremost advocate of Jihad against the Americans in AF-Pak region, therefore his death will dampen the spirits of radical groups and cause despair in tribal areas of Pakistan. Jihadi operations along the Afghan-Pakistan borders may slow down but Al-Qaeda’s global operations in Africa, West Asia and other parts of the world will continue unhindered. Some specific plans of attacking American or European targets may also be put on hold but there is view that retaliatory attacks on US and European citizens and embassies would be launched once the news of al-Libi’s death is confirmed.
The top leaders of al- Qaeda have good protection against ground attacks in the frontier areas of Pakistan but they have no defence against drone attacks. And this may force them to move to other safer parts of Pakistan or move out of that country.
India has to carefully watch the impact of the reported demise of al-Libi on Pakistan, though the death of al-Libi is unlikely to make much difference in the plans of Lashkar e Tayabba or Jaish e Mohammad of targeting India.
(Maj Gen (retd.) Afsir Karim is editor of Aakrosh, a defence magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)