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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 February 2008, 09:56 GMT
Al-Qaeda 'killing' spawns doubts
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Peshawar

Abu Laith al-Libi in video released April 2007 (picture from Intelcenter)
Libi is thought to have directed recent suicide attacks

It was unusual for Islamist websites to break the news of the death of an important al-Qaeda operative as they did this week in the case of Abu Laith al-Libi.

Two such websites - Ekhlaas.org and as-Sahab - which usually carry statements from al-Qaeda leaders, reported the story.

These websites and al-Qaeda and its affiliates usually deny any report of their operatives' deaths because the loss of a leading member of the network could be demoralising for its rank and file.

This change could mean one of two things.

Perhaps it was no longer possible to keep secret al-Libi's killing in an apparent US missile strike on a hideout of militants in a village near Mir Ali town in North Waziristan.

Or perhaps the intent was to say that he was dead, even though he may be alive, and prompt all those closing in on him to give up the chase.

'Significant loss'

Abu Laith al-Libi  (Photo: US DIA)
Libi has appeared in a number of al Qaeda videos

Conclusive evidence about his death is difficult to obtain as the village near Mir Ali is presently outside the writ of the government of Pakistan.

It is also far from the bases of the US and Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Even four days after the missile strike on Khushali Torikhel Wazir village, 2km (1.2 miles) south of Mir Ali, the Pakistan government was still unable to officially confirm or deny anything about the airstrike or provide details about the death toll and the identity of those killed.

The government and the military have been finding it difficult and risky to send men to the targeted village to seek details about the missile attack.

ABU LAITH AL-LIBI
Born: Libya, around 1967
Description: 193cm (6'4") tall, solid build, dark hair and eyes, scars on back
Role: Senior operations commander; al-Qaeda spokesman
Source: Globalsecurity.org

The new governor of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Owais Ahmad Ghani, told reporters that the government had finally sent officials to the village.

However, it is doubtful if the government would share any information gained with the media and the public.

In the absence of more solid information, there is lots of hearsay and speculation.

Pakistani Taleban in North Waziristan are claiming that al-Libi was not among the 13 mostly Arab and Central Asian militants who intelligence sources say were killed in the missile strike by a pilotless, CIA-operated Predator aircraft.

map

However, they conceded that al-Libi had been seen in that area recently.

Some reports suggested that al-Libi was not present at the targeted house at the time of the attack, but that his deputy Abu Sahel was there and had been killed.

Disruption

If al-Libi was killed in the airstrike, this would be a significant loss for al-Qaeda.

It has been some time since someone considered as important has been killed.

Although the network is known to quickly replace its fallen or captured operatives, the loss of such an important member would be painful for the group and could degrade its effectiveness and disrupt its immediate plans for attacks against the US and its allies.

Osama Bin Laden with Ayman al-Zawahiri
Might Bin Laden and Zawahiri be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region?

Apart from the operational impact, al-Libi's death could also have political and symbolic effects because he was seen a few times with al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in video-tapes and had given speeches to preach "jihad" and attract Muslims to his cause.

If al-Libi's death is confirmed in the airstrike in Pakistan, the belief that Dr Zawahiri or even Osama bin Laden were also hiding in the Pakistani tribal areas such as Waziristan will gain more strength.

This would put greater pressure on the Pakistan government to hunt down al-Qaeda and Taleban operatives hiding in Waziristan and elsewhere in the country.

The US too would find justification for its troops to be allowed to deploy in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to carry out operations against the hideouts of the wanted al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Footage of Abu Laith al-Libi



SEE ALSO
Top al-Qaeda leader reported dead
31 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Pakistan attack kills 'militants'
29 Jan 08 |  South Asia
The global terror threat in 2008
03 Jan 08 |  Middle East
Why Waziristan matters
24 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Zawahiri video blasts US strike
30 Jan 06 |  Middle East

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