WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Is the killing of a top al-Qaida commander by a CIA drone the beginning of a turning point in the war on terrorism?
Ikhlaas.org, a pro-Islamist Web site known to often post communiques from radicals and terrorists, confirmed the death last week of Abu Laith al-Libi, one of the most wanted al-Qaida operatives. The statement appeared Jan. 31 and was immediately noticed by the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation, which specializes in tracking terrorist activities.
The Web site said al-Libi, whose name indicates his Libyan nationality, was "martyred along with a group of his brothers on the territory of Islamic Pakistan."
The information that al-Libi was killed by a CIA airstrike was confirmed by top U.S. officials to CNN.
Al-Libi had a bounty of $200,000 on his head. According to the Asia-Pacific Foundation, "al-Libi's death is the most significant since the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan in March 2003."
Al-Libi is believed to have organized the bombing on the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's visit in February 2007. The attack killed 23 people.
The London Asia-Pacific Foundation believes al-Libi's death was linked to what is suspected to be a U.S. Predator drone strike on a village near Mir Ali, in Pakistan's North Waziristan region. The strike is reported to have occurred on Jan. 29. Twelve people were killed, among them a number of Arabs and Uzbeks, "as well as local Taliban members," it said.
Along with al-Libi, another senior member of al-Qaida identified as Abu Obaidah al-Masri, and who is believed to be implicated in several terrorist plots in Europe, was also targeted by the attack.
"It has the potential to embarrass President Pervez Musharraf, who repeatedly said he would not sanction U.S. military action against al-Qaida members operating in his country," stated a comprehensive study by the APF.
The foundation's analysis says al-Libi's death would be felt more by the Taliban than al-Qaida. However, points out the report, "both the Taliban and al-Qaida has proved itself to be resilient to individual losses and setbacks."
Who was Abu Laith al-Libi and what are his origins? According to several sources, he was born in Libya in 1941. He led a group called The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, (al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya al-Muqatila), which tried to overthrow Libya's leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
Analysts from the APF describe the LIFG as "perhaps the most notorious terrorist group from Libya." They developed a close relationship with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
A video recording showing Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's deputy commander, with al-Libi was released on Nov. 3, 2007, on as-Sahab's (The Cloud) Web site, believed by intelligence analysts to represent al-Qaida's views. On the recording announcing the merger between al-Qaida and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al-Libi states:
"We proclaim our alliance with the al-Qaida network … to become the faithful soldiers of Osama bin Laden."
Al-Libi is believed to have hatched the idea of increasing abductions of foreigners in Afghanistan, and according to the APF, he was responsible for the kidnapping of some 20 South Korean aid workers in July 2007, one of whom was murdered.
Al-Libi was a veteran of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Upon his return to Libya in 1994 he fomented a failed coup to overthrow Gadhafi and subsequently sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested -- and jailed for a year -- following the bombing of the Khobar Towers in 1996 in which 19 U.S. military personnel were killed. After his release he is said to have grown closer to al-Qaida.
APF says al-Libi was considered to be one of the top commanders in charge of al-Qaida's ground forces in southern Afghanistan, responsible for carrying out terrorist operations in Khost, Paktia, and Ghazni provinces, and the region bordering Miram Shah, Pakistan. In July 2002 he revealed that bin Laden was still alive, the first comments about the al-Qaida leader's health after the end of the Afghan conflict.
Al-Libi specialized in the production of improvised explosive devices, a tactic widely used against U.S. forces in Iraq.
A prior attempt to kill al-Libi in June 2007 ended in disaster when a U.S. rocket attack on a compound in Afghanistan's Paktia province killed several children but missed al-Libi.
The Libyan-born terrorist had been previously apprehended by U.S. forces and jailed at Bagram air base, near the Afghan capital. But in July 2005, accompanied by several other al-Qaida detainees, he managed to escape.
No doubt, the death of al-Libi is a major achievement in what the Bush administration calls "the war on terror." A point not to be missed is that his elimination comes about as the result of meticulous intelligence gathering in an area until now believed to have offered a safe haven for the terrorists. This new development is no doubt cause of growing concern to the jihadis who felt a certain sense of security in the wilderness of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)