Abu Yahya al-Libi: Libyan militant who rose to become second-in-command of al-Qa’ida


Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qa'ida's charismatic, media savvy, second-in-command was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in the early hours of Monday morning. Upwards of 15 other suspected militants were also killed.

Al-Libi's death is seen by Washington as significant and a "major blow" to al-Qa'ida's core leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to its operations, as he was one of the organisation's "most experienced and versatile leaders" who played a critical role in al-Qa'ida's terrorist planning against the West. He is believed to have functioned as a "gatekeeper" or interface between al-Qa'ida's Egyptian-born leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pakistan's militant commanders and operatives in the field in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere. In addition, Al-Libi was considered the chief architect of al-Qa'ida's global propaganda machine.

His death is said to be the biggest setback to the terror network since the demise of Osama bin Laden. US officials now claim that "there is no clear successor to take on the breadth of his responsibility and that puts additional pressure on al-Qa'ida."

The US attacks are believed to be hurting al-Qa'ida. In documents seized from bin Laden's compound, the former leader warned his "brothers" in North Waziristan to travel only under cloud cover in order to thwart the drones. Perhaps the reach and apparent effectiveness of US intelligence in the region may well be as of much concern to al-Qa'ida's leadership as the death of their comrade.

However, this is not a view held by independent experts, who believe that "Killing the top leadership harms al-Qa'ida, but it won't defeat them... There are people who will step up to fill the void. Al-Qa'ida has a far deeper bench than the administration gives it credit for." It is suggested that in order to have a real impact on al-Qa'ida, its ideology, state support and ability to exploit ungoverned space in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen needs to be tackled. Only time will tell.

Al-Libi is among more than 12 senior al-Qa'ida leaders assassinated since Bin Laden was tracked down and killed by US Navy Seals in May last year.

In 2008, a former CIA analyst dubbed Al-Libi "a man for all seasons... He's a warrior. He's a poet. He's a scholar. He's a pundit. He's a military commander. And he's a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within al-Qa'ida."

Born in Libya in the 1960s, Al-Libi became an Islamic scholar and was militant from an early age. In the 1990s, he became a member of an Islamist group that sought to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. Al-Libi then joined al-Qa'ida and moved to Afghanistan, but was captured in 2002 when NATO forces overran the country. However, he rose to prominence following his escape from a United States military detention centre at Bagram Air Force Base outside Kabul in July 2005. With three other al-Qa'ida operatives, he picked a lock and evaded the prison guards in a bid for freedom.

Within a year, in the first of many that would burnish Al-Libi's reputation as a propagandist, his exploits were posted on the internet in a 54-minute video, in which he boasted about his escape and mocked his American captors. At the time, his use of the internet was second only to Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical US-born cleric, designated "one of the most dangerous men alive", who was killed by a drone strike in September 2011.

Al-Libi had gravitas as a longstanding member of al-Qa'ida's leadership – and with his religious credentials, he was in a position to authorise and issue fatwas in addition to providing guidance to other militants. His cachet continued to rise with his chastising of critics, in particular America, and his views on world events via prolific internet video releases and writings, as well as the increased vociferousness of his calls for Muslims to wage jihad against the US. With this, Al-Libi unwittingly propelled himself towards the top of the Americans' "kill or capture" list, making himself a target for assassination by US forces or CIA drones. He had a $1m bounty on his head for information alone. In 2009, there was a similar unsuccessful attempt on his life by the US military.

In the lawless and volatile tribal areas of Pakistan's north-west, Al-Libi successfully negotiated with the ethnic Pashtun militant groups that have sheltered al-Qa'ida in the tribal belt for over a decade – and at one point he urged Pakistanis to overthrow their own government. He also presided over the transformation of a secretive group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan into a global movement aimed at winning converts, and potential attackers, from Somalia to the Philippines. Nonetheless, Pakistan's tribal belt remains a hub of regional and international militancy. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad, who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, New York, said that he had received explosives training from the Pakistani Taliban, while insurgent fighters based in Waziristan regularly attack NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

Al-Libi is believed to have been elevated to deputy leader last year, following the death of Atiyah abd al-Rahman in a drone strike in North Waziristan.

Within Pakistan itself, tensions are high among the general populous. Pakistan's government has condemned the most recent drone strike, summoning the US chargé d'affaires to express its "serious concerns" over the tactic. However, despite protestations from Islamabad that the attacks violate their sovereignty, privately Pakistan has sanctioned them.

Martin Childs

Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qa'ida militant: born Libya c.1963; died Mir Ali, Pakistan 4 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn