Abu Yahya al-Libi: Al-Qaeda’s Second-In-Command

A quick look at the senior al Qaeda leader targeted in the latest U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.

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A frame grab from a video posted online on November 2, 2006, by Al Qaeda, showing Abu Yahia Al-Libi

UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that Aby Yahya al-Libi was killed in Monday’s drone strike, citing an unnamed U.S. government official.

U.S. military officials have confirmed today that they launched a drone strike to target him; Taliban militants claim that he escaped death; and Pakistani intelligence agents suggest that he was in his house when it was completely destroyed, in the North Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan. But who is he?  Here is a brief introduction to Abu Yahya al-Libi, the man believed to be the second most senior member of one of the world’s most deadly terrorist organizations:

(MORE: Diminishing Drones)

Fast Facts:

  • Abu Yahya al-Libi is known as the deputy chief of Al-Qaeda, a close aide to Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, and part of the organization’s core leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • He has emerged as Al-Qaeda’s leading theologian, and is most visible on the group’s propaganda videos.
  • Before he allied himself with bin Laden, he is thought to have been a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
  • He is thought to be in his late 40s.
  • He is a Libyan citizen.
  • He was captured in Afghanistan and detained at the U.S. military airbase at Bagram in 2002; he escaped three years later with three other members of Al-Qaeda.
  • The U.S. has offered a $1 million bounty for his death or recapture.
  • In 2009, he was erroneously reported dead by Pakistan’s media after a U.S. drone strike, only to resurface months later.
  • It is unclear whether he was present at the scene of the drone attack launched by the U.S. military on Monday, when a compound and vehicle reportedly belonging to him were targeted. The strike left 15 people dead.
  • If it emerges that he has been killed, he would be among over a dozen leading Al-Qaeda figures assassinated since Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs last May.

Quotes By:

“O Muslim youth in the East and West, who listen to God calling you: ‘Go forth to war, whether it be easy or difficult for you, and strive hard in God’s cause with your possessions and your lives,’” – From a video sermon released in 2008.
(The New York Times, April 4, 2008)

“Al-Qaeda and its leaders are too noble and pure to descend to the rotten level of such nonsense [ie. That Al-Qaeda’s constitution calls for killing anyone who breaks the group.]” – From a 93-minute speech released in 2007.
(The New York Times, April 4, 2008)

“Tell me, what do you expect from someone who sees the sword above him, the rug in front of him and the sheik dictating to him the proof and evidence for the obligation of obeying the ruler?” – From the same speech cited above, arguing that attempts to rehabilitate captured militants are an ineffective tactic to combat Al-Qaeda.

“I share with you your great jihad … I hope that you will lay open your heart for the acceptance of what I say.” – From a letter dated November 20, 2005, addressed to the late militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who he felt was undermining Al-Qaeda’s global strategy by killing too many civilians.
(The New York Times, April 4, 2008)

Quotes About:

“The loss of Abu Yahya al-Libi would be felt throughout the jihadi community as he has been one of the most visible jihadi figures from any of the groups around the world, with prolific video releases and writings.” – Ben Venzke, an analyst at U.S.-based IntelCenter.
(The Daily Telegraph, June 5, 2012)

“This is one of the more prominent names [among the targets of drone strikes in Pakistan].” – Paul Pillar, former CIA officer.
(The Daily Telegraph, June 5, 2012)

“He has not been killed. This is not the first time claims have been made about his death. The Americans are suffering heavy losses in Afghanistan so they have resorted to making false claims.” – A militant commander in North Waziristan closely associated with foreign fighters.
(The Guardian, June 5, 2012)

“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 A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.” – Jarret Brachman, former C.I.A analyst.
(The New York Times, April 4, 2008)

“Abu Yahya is a senior Al Qaeda member, a top strategist for the group, and trusted and presented as one of the group’s most effective promoters of jihad.” – Dell L. Dailey, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief.
(The New York Times, April 4, 2008)

MORE: al Qaeda’s No. 2 Killed?