Al-Qaeda Figure Is Killed in Pakistan

One al-Qaeda's top commanders in Afghanistan, Abu Laith al-Libi was killed in Afghanistan, a Web site used by militant groups said Thursday. Video by AP
By Craig Whitlock and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 1, 2008

BERLIN, Jan. 31 -- A senior al-Qaeda commander was killed this week in Pakistan, according to Western officials and an Islamic radical Web site, marking a rare success in the flagging U.S. and Pakistani campaign to hunt down members of the network.

Abu Laith al-Libi, the nom de guerre of a Libyan fighter who had served alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban since the late 1980s, had become an influential field commander in recent years, overseeing many operations against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, officials said. The U.S. military blamed him for organizing a suicide attack that killed 23 people outside Bagram air base during a visit by Vice President Cheney in February last year.

The Western officials declined to give details of how Libi died. But there is evidence he was targeted in a missile strike that killed 12 people early Tuesday in a remote village in northwestern Pakistan.

Villagers reported seeing an aerial drone shortly before the attack, and local officials said Libi and his deputies were known to visit the area. The CIA has previously used unmanned Predator aircraft to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan; U.S. personnel are officially barred from conducting operations in the country.

Following previous strikes, U.S. and Pakistani officials have sometimes prematurely claimed the deaths of specific al-Qaeda leaders, only to be proved wrong. Libi's death, however, was also reported Thursday by Al-Fajr Media Center, which distributes al-Qaeda statements on the Internet.

In a eulogy, it said he was "martyred with a group of his brothers in the land of Muslim Pakistan" and lauded his skills as a battlefield commander and a trainer of other fighters.

"He was an artist in what he did," the statement said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private organization that researches terrorism.

Libi is the first major al-Qaeda leader known to have been killed or captured in Pakistan in more than two years. In December 2005, a senior operational planner, Abu Hamza Rabia, was killed in a Predator attack in North Waziristan, not far from where Libi is believed to have died.

Another senior al-Qaeda commander, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, was captured in late 2006 in Turkey after departing Pakistan in an attempt to reach Iraq. He was held for several months in a secret CIA prison overseas before his transfer to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in April 2007.

The U.S. military announced a $200,000 reward last October for information leading to Libi's capture. In June, he was targeted in a U.S. rocket attack on a Taliban compound in Afghanistan's Paktia province, but survived.

A former top U.S. counterterrorism official described Libi as a skillful fighter and tactician, and one of the first senior al-Qaeda figures from outside the original leadership circle of Saudis and Egyptians.

"Operationally he was very competent," said Henry A. Crumpton, formerly the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator and a veteran of the CIA's campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001. Crumpton said the death of a senior leader such as Libi can foil or disrupt planned attacks and throw the organization off-balance.

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