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Deputy al-Qaida Leader Killed in Pakistan, White House Confirms

This still image from video obtained on Oct. 18, 2011, courtesy of IntelCenter, shows al-Qaida’s as-Sahab’s video statement from Abu Yahya al-Libi on Algeria. (Photo credit: AFP / IntelCenter / Getty Images)

By chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski
and senior investigative producer Robert Windrem

June 5, 2012

The White House on Tuesday confirmed the death of deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, calling his death a “major blow” to the terrorist group.

White House spokesman Jay Carney would not confirm al-Libi’s death occurred as a result of a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, part of  Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area, though Pakistani security sources said he died in  a pre-dawn attack there that killed 15 insurgents, the last in a series of three U.S. drone attacks over the weekend. …

Al-Libi, or “the Libyan” in Arabic, believed to be 39 years old, was one of the most influential propagandists in al-Qaida and one of its best known leaders. U.S. officials, speaking with NBC News on condition of anonymity, characterized him as irreplaceable in his expertise, ability and influence.

Al-Libi drew much of his credibility from having escaped a U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on the night of July 10, 2005. He subsequently appeared in more than 30 videos produced by al Shahab, the al-Qaida media wing, and other militant sites. In December 2009, Pakistani officials erroneously reported he had been killed in a Predator strike, further enhancing his image. …

In May 2011, shortly after bin Laden was killed, U.S. officials identified Abu Yahya as one of five potential successors to the slain al-Qaida leaders.  The leading candidate, Ayman al Zawahiri, ultimately did succeed bin Laden.  The other four potential successors now have all been killed in drone strikes.

Al-Qaida leaders killed or captured (click image to enlarge) 

Ilyas Kashmiri, al-Qaida’s director of external operations, was killed on June 3. Abdul Rahman Atiya, bin Laden’s chief of staff, was killed Aug. 22. Both of those attacks took place in northwestern Pakistan. Anwar al Awlaki, a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and an American citizen, was killed in Yemen, also in a drone strike, on Sept. 30.

With the leadership of the core al-Qaida group in Pakistan now decimated, U.S. officials have increasingly used drone attacks against the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and master bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Nasiri. …

Full story


6/22/2012 Update

Panetta: Only a ‘Small Handful’ of Top al-Qaida Targets Left


Drone strike kills al-Qaida second-in-command (NBC “Today,” June 6, 2012) — The White House has confirmed the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in a weekend drone strike in Pakistan. NBCs Jim Miklaszewski reports. (01:14)

Reuters via
June 22, 2012

Nearly one year ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta predicted the strategic defeat of al-Qaida was within reach if the United States could kill or capture up to 20 leaders of the core group and its affiliates.

In an interview with Reuters, Panetta disclosed that only a “small handful” of the individuals on that original list remained on the battlefield and that Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden — was reporting a drop-off in recruitment.

“We’ve not only impacted on their leadership, we’ve impacted on their capability to provide any kind of command and control in terms of operations,” Panetta said Thursday. …

Panetta did not single out which leaders from his target list last year remained, but current al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri is one he named last year. He is still believed to be living in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Al-Qaida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a still image from a web posting by al-Qaida’s media arm, as-Sahab, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (Photo credit: SITE via AP)

Asked how many targets remained, Panetta said, “It’s a small handful and it’s growing smaller all the time.”

The killing of bin Laden in a covert U.S. raid in Pakistan last year has been followed by a series of unmanned aerial attacks that have crushed al-Qaida’s network along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The latest high-profile al-Qaida leader killed in the U.S. campaign was Abu Yahya al-Libi, the group’s second-in-command, who broke out of a high-security U.S. prison in neighboring Afghanistan in 2005 and was a key strategist.

Beyond the Afghan-Pakistan region, another key figure killed last year was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American imam who became a senior leader of al-Qaida’s Yemen-based affiliate.

While successful tactically, the drone strikes have further poisoned U.S.-Pakistan relations and, critics say, raise questions about international law and could boost militant recruiting.

Only about eight hard-core al-Qaida leaders are still believed to be based in the lawless borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, compared with dozens a few years ago.

Full story


8/27/2012 Update

Top Militant Commander Badruddin Haqqani Killed in Airstrike

August 26, 2012

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency says its operatives have confirmed that a top commander of Haqqani militants behind some of the biggest attacks on Western and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan has been killed.

Agency spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri said Sunday that Badruddin Haqqani was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan, The Associated Press reported. He said the strike took place last week but did not give more details. He would not say whether the agency’s sources have seen the body.

The Taliban, which is allied with the Haqqani network, have said that Badruddin is still alive and in Afghanistan. …

Badruddin is the Haqqani network’s head of operations and is considered second in seniority to the group’s leader, his older brother Sirajuddin Haqqani [link added]. Badruddin is also believed to handle the network’s vital business interests and smuggling operations. …

If Badruddin’s death is confirmed, it could deal a major blow to the Haqqanis, one of the United States’ most feared enemies in Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis are the most experienced fighters in Afghanistan and the loss of one of the group’s most important leaders could ease pressure on NATO as it prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops at the end of 2014.

A series of drone strikes in North Waziristan [link added] this week suggest the CIA, which remotely operates the aircraft, was after a high-value militant target in the unruly area. …

U.S. officials blame the al-Qaida-linked network for some of the boldest attacks in Afghanistan, including one on embassies and parliament in Kabul in April that lasted 18 hours, killing 11 Afghan security forces and four civilians [link added]. …

A separate NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, both NATO and the Taliban said on Saturday [link added].

Both sides identified the dead commander as Mulla Dadullah [at link, cf. Taliban leadership council member by the same name] and said several of his comrades were also killed in the attack on Friday.

A picture dated Sept. 2, 2011 shows Mulla Dadullah (center) talking with journalists at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area of Kunar and Bajaur tribal region. (Photo credit: Meer Afzal / EPA file)

Full story


9/14/2012 Update

There is evidence that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, was an organized terrorist attack in retaliation for the killing of deputy al-Qaida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in a June 2012 U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, part of  Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area. Notably, on the morning of the attack, September 11, 2012, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a video calling for attacks to avenge the death of al-Libi (English: “The Libyan”).


Libya attack puts spotlight on Al Qaeda terror affiliates (MSNBC “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Sept. 13, 2012) — Rachel Maddow describes the evidence that points to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as having been an organized terrorist attack, and shows how Al Qaeda affiliates and Al Qaeda-like terror groups have established themselves throughout Africa. (09:14)


9/21/2012 Update

White House: Libya Consulate Siege That Killed Four Was ‘Terrorist Attack’


Benghazi attack likely pre-planned, officials say (NBC Nightly News, Sept. 20, 2012) — The White House has confirmed that the terror attack that killed four Americans at the Libya consulate was orchestrated by al-Qaida sympathizers, but questions remain about when it was planned. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:58)

By Kari Huus

September 20, 2012

The siege of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last week that left four dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, was a “terrorist attack,” a White House spokesman said Thursday.

“It is I think self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, our (consulate) was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. That is self-evident,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One.

Since the Benghazi attack occurred amid protests of an American-made anti-Islam video that was circulating on the Internet, it has been unclear whether it was planned independently or launched opportunistically when the demonstration was under way, or if it was a spontaneous attack emerging out of the protests.

This was the first time the White House called it a “terrorist attack.”

We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaida or al-Qaida affiliates,” said Carney, who noted that the FBI is investigating. …

The low-budget video, “Innocence of Muslims,” with its insulting portrayal of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, had been circulating on the Internet for months, and it is unclear why it became a focal point of anger in the Muslim world just before the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the United States.

“What we do know is that the natural protests that emerged over the video were used as an excuse by extremists,” said President Barack Obama, speaking at a forum hosted by the Spanish-language TV station Univision on Thursday about the attacks on diplomatic posts in Libya and Egypt.

Protests, some of them violent, have erupted at U.S. diplomatic missions across majority Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in the past week.

In Benghazi, the attack on the consulate took the lives of Stevens, as well as information management officer Sean Smith and security personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, all of whom were honored in a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base last week as their remains were returned to the United States. …

Full story


12/9/2012 Update

Senior al-Qaida Leader Killed in Drone Strike in Pakistan

Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan, aka Abu-Zaid al Kuwaiti, was reportedly killed in a drone strike while eating breakfast in Pakistan. (Photo credit:

By senior investigative producer Robert Windrem

December 7, 2012

A senior al-Qaida official and potential successor to the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed Friday morning in a Predator drone strike, according to reports on jihadi web forums and U.S. officials.

Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan, aka Abu-Zaid al Kuwaiti, was killed in Pakistan while eating breakfast, according to the accounts.  The 46-year-old cleric was seen as part of the “very top tier” of al-Qaida’s remaining leaders in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, according to one expert on the terror group.

The news was first announced on an al-Qaida web forum early Friday. “We celebrate to you the news of the martyrdom of the working scholar Shaykh Khalid al-Hussainan (Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti) while eating his Suhoor (dawn time) meal, and we ask Allah to accept him in paradise,” a post said.

Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News counterterrorism analyst, said al-Hussainan was at the forefront of a new wave of al-Qaida leadership.

“That’s a big gap in the leadership,” said Kohlmann, who is also a Justice Department consultant. “He was the last senior Al-Qaida leader in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area who was, one, from the Arabian Peninsula and, two, who had serious clerical credentials.  Now there is no obvious publicly recognizable candidate left to succeed Zawahiri.” …

The U.S. killed three other up-and-coming members of the terror group’s next generation leadership in the months after bin Laden was killed in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011. Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of a Pakistani group associated with al-Qaeda was killed June 3. Atiyah Abd-al Rahman, bin Laden’s chief of staff, was killed on Aug. 22 and Ayman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was a leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed Sept. 30. US officials say that hints about their whereabouts were found in materials gathered by the Navy SEALs in the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

Al-Hussainan is the highest ranking al-Qaida official to be killed since those leaders were killed. …

The fact that the attack was carried out by a Predator shows that the US intends to keep using the drones to kill al-Qaida, despite criticism from Pakistani officials and U.S. critics, said Roger Cressey, former deputy director of the White House counterterrorism center and an NBC News analyst. …

Full story


1/25/2013 Update

Key al-Qaida Figure Dies Following U.S. Drone Strike

Saeed al-Shihri, deputy leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in a photo from undated video posted on a militant-leaning Web site in January 2009, and provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. (Photo credit: AP)

By Ahmed al Haj

January 25, 2013

SANAA, Yemen — Al-Qaida’s No. 2 in Yemen died in a U.S. drone attack last year in southern Yemen, the country’s official news agency and a security official said Thursday.

Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi national who fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, was wounded in a missile attack in the southern city of Saada on Oct. 28, according to SABA news agency.

The agency said that he had fallen into a coma since then. It was not clear when he actually died.

A security official said that the missile had been fired by a U.S.-operated, unmanned drone aircraft. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Yemen had previously announced al-Shihri’s death in a Sept. 10 drone attack in the province of Hadramawt. A subsequent DNA test however proved that the body recovered was not that of al-Shihri.

On Oct. 22, al-Shihri denied his own death in audio message posted on Jihadi websites.

Also known by the nom de guerre Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, he denounced at the time the Yemeni government for spreading the “rumor about my death … as though the killing of the mujahideen (holy warriors) by America is a victory to Islam and Muslims.”

Al-Shihri went through Saudi Arabia’s famous “rehabilitation” institutes after he returned to his home country, but then he fled to Yemen and became deputy to Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of an al-Qaida group.

Al-Shihri’s death is considered a major blow to al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in The Arabian Peninsula. Washington considers it the most dangerous of the group’s offshoots.

Al-Qaida in Yemen has been linked to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets, including the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and explosives-laden parcels intercepted aboard cargo flights last year.

In 2011, a high-profile U.S. drone strike killed U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010. …

Full story


Related reports on this site

American-Born Terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen (Oct. 2, 2011)

Image: Anwar al-Awlaki
U.S.-born Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who has called on Muslims to kill American civilians. (Photo credit: Associated Press / Los Angeles Times)

Top al-Qaida Commander Killed (June 5, 2011)

Key al-Qaida figure reportedly killed (NBC News, June 4, 2011)A drone strike in Pakistan has reportedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri, who is said to be a possible successor to Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida’s top commander. NBC’s Brian Mooar reports. (01:07)

Al-Qaida Leadership Roles (May 4, 2011)

Image: Al-Qaida members
Top row, from left: Ali Saeed Bin Ali al-Hooriyeh, Saif Al-Adel, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso. Bottom row, from left: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Adam Yahiye Gadahn. (AP, Reuters, FBI handout file photos)

Ayman al-Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011)

Osama bin Laden Dead (May 1, 2011)

Obama confirms bin Laden is dead (NBC News, May 1, 2011) — President Obama announces that a small team of military specialists were involved in a firefight in Pakistan, which killed Osama bin Laden. (09:18)

The Taliban’s “Dirty Dozen” (April 21, 2011)

Image: File photo of Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud with his arm around then-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud
Militant commander Hakimullah Mehsud is seen with his arm around then-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan in May 2008. Baitullah Mehsud reportedly died in a U.S. drone attack in August 2009. (Photo credit: Stringer – Pakistan / Reuters)

Al-Qaida’s Third in Command Assassinated (June 2, 2010)

Top al-Qaida commander believed dead (NBC “Today,” June 1, 2010) — Mustafa al-Yazid, also known as Sheik Saeed al-Masri, was a co-founder of the terrorism network and third in command. (01:58).

Osama bin Laden Personality Profile (Dec. 6, 2009)

Porn stash found at bin Laden compound (MSNBC, May 15, 2011) — An “extensive” stash of pornography [link added] was among the items seized when U.S. Navy SEALs raided the Pakistan hideout of Osama bin Laden. MSNBC’s Alex Witt talks with the Washington Post’s Toby Warrick. (01:56)

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