Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Drone Strike May Have Killed Qaeda Deputy Chief ; Death of Senior Leader Would Be Biggest Success for U.S. since Bin Laden

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Drone Strike May Have Killed Qaeda Deputy Chief ; Death of Senior Leader Would Be Biggest Success for U.S. since Bin Laden

Article excerpt

Pakistani tribal sources near the site of a drone attack said Abu Yahya al-Libi, deputy commander of Al Qaeda, was either killed or seriously wounded in the strike.

The fate of one of the most dedicated enemies of the United States was the subject of mounting speculation after a drone strike in the Pakistani tribal region was said to have targeted Abu Yahya al-Libi, the Qaeda commander who escaped U.S. custody in 2005 and became the group's deputy leader after Osama bin Laden's death last year.

Tribal sources in Mir Ali, near where the drone attack occurred Monday, said Mr. Libi was either killed or seriously wounded in the strike, which Pakistani officials said killed at least 15 people. It was the third strike in three days in the tribal area.

In Washington, officials familiar with the strikes confirmed that Mr. Libi, believed to be in his late 40s, was the target of the attack. But they said they did not know whether he had survived. Officials appeared to be wary because, as with some other top militants sheltering in the region, Mr. Libi has been falsely reported dead before -- in December 2009 after a drone strike in the Pakistani region of South Waziristan. By Monday night in Pakistan, no concrete evidence had emerged to prove the latest accounts of his death were accurate.

But from Peshawar, the main city in northwestern Pakistan, to Islamabad and Washington, officials confirmed they were taking such reports very seriously. If true, it would be the U.S. government's greatest gain against Al Qaeda since a team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, last year.

"People are looking very closely to see whether he's still alive," said one U.S. official who was monitoring intelligence reports, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It'll take some time for people to gain a high level of confidence that he's dead. But he's No. 2 in Al Qaeda, and this would be a major blow."

The strike occurred early Monday in Hassu Khel, a small village in North Waziristan, just south of Mir Ali, when a drone fired several missiles at a compound and a nearby pickup truck, local Pakistani officials said. It was the deadliest attack in the tribal region since November.

The attack was the latest signal of the Obama administration's determination to press ahead with its drone campaign. The attacks have outraged Pakistani officials even while negotiations continue to try to reopen NATO supply lines that run into Afghanistan.

A resident of the Mir Ali area, citing militant sources and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he believed that Mr. Libi was in the compound in Hassu Khel when the attack occurred. He said Mr. Libi had been moved there to recuperate from light wounds sustained in a May 28 drone strike.

He said he could not be sure if Mr. …

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