A U.S. predator drone strike in Pakistan killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, according to two U.S. officials.
The drone’s video camera had tracked Abu Yahya al-Libi getting into his car, and Pakistani sources in the North Waziristan tribal region reported that the subsequent attack had killed his driver and bodyguard, according to the U.S. officials, who spoke today on condition of anonymity to discuss a covert operation.
It took more than 24 hours after the strike for the U.S. to be certain the unmanned aircraft’s missile also had killed its prime target. The dearth of reliable, real-time intelligence on potential terrorists is a weak link in the Obama administration’s intensified campaign of almost 300 drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to analysts such as Rick “Ozzie” Nelson.
“Intelligence is never going to be 100 percent accurate,” said Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The president himself has to decide how much risk he’s willing to take when he approves a strike.”
In al-Libi’s case, targeting the Libyan was worth the risk of missing him and perhaps killing innocent people if the audio and video feeds from the Predator were misleading, the two U.S. officials said. Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. still has little human intelligence of its own from terrorist sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan.
Al-Libi, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, was among prisoners who escaped from the U.S.-run prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan three years later. He took over as the core al- Qaeda group’s No. 2 after U.S. raiders killed Osama bin Laden 13 months ago and Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri assumed the top position.
The Libyan, whom U.S. intelligence officials think was born in 1963 and studied chemistry in Libya, appeared often in al- Qaeda videos. He was described on a U.S. State Department website as “a key motivator in the global jihadi movement, and his messages convey a clear threat to U.S. persons or property worldwide.”
The department listed him as one of America’s most wanted terrorists, and in one announcement offered $1 million for information leading to his capture.
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