A top al-Qaeda commander who led Osama bin Laden’s terror network in Afghanistan was believed to have been killed when a missile fired by a United States drone hit his Pakistani hideout, officials said on Friday.
Abu Laith al-Libi is said to be one of bin Laden’s key lieutenants and allegedly masterminded a deadly bombing at a US military base in Afghanistan during a visit by US Vice-President Dick Cheney last year.
Pakistani security officials said he was one of 13 al-Qaeda militants staying at a compound in the country’s North Waziristan tribal border region when it was destroyed in the air raid early on Tuesday.
“Libi was there at the time of the strike. No one survived, we believe he was killed,” one intelligence official based in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, said.
“The missile attack was carried out by a US Predator,” the official said, quoting residents who witnessed a pilotless drone circling in the area for at least two days before the attack.
A senior Pakistani security official in Islamabad added: “We think Libi died in the missile attack.”
Libi was number five on a classified US Central Intelligence Agency wanted list, with a $5-million bounty on his head. The top two spots are occupied by Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Libyan had appeared in several al-Qaeda propaganda videos, but security officials and militant sources said he was also a key field commander who linked up with Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.
“It will dent Osama bin Laden’s close network,” a top Pakistani militant source said. “He was one of the few among the close circles of Bin Laden who would come and fight on the front.”
Islamist websites first announced the death of Libi, who is said to be in his 40s.
Libi was at a guesthouse attached to the home of a local Taliban commander, 3km from Mir Ali, the second biggest town in North Waziristan, when the missile hit, Pakistani officials said.
Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas said earlier on Friday he could not confirm Libi’s death.
“We cannot negate nor confirm because the moment it happened they removed the bodies and buried them. So, how would anybody confirm who got killed?” Abbas said.
In Washington, a Western official who asked not to be identified said there were “very strong indications” that Libi had been killed but provided no further details.
Asked about the reports, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said: “I don’t have anything definitive for you on that.” — AFP