ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A U.S. drone strike in northern Pakistan has killed al-Qaida's second-in-command, American officials said yesterday, the biggest success so far in the controversial military program and a significant setback to a terror network that has lost a string of top figures since the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.
Abu Yahya al-Libi was considered a media-savvy, charismatic leader with religious credentials who escaped from an American prison in Afghanistan and was helping to preside over the transformation of al-Qaida from a close-knit group into an ideological movement aimed at winning converts, and potential attackers, around the world.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called al-Libi's death a "major blow" to the terror network.
Carney described al-Libi as an operational leader and a "general manager" of al-Qaida. He said al-Libi had a range of experience that will be hard for al-Qaida to replicate and brings the terror network closer to its ultimate demise than ever before.
Al-Libi was the latest in a dozen-plus senior commanders removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al-Qaida since Navy SEALs killed bin Laden.
A hero in militant circles for his 2005 escape from an American military prison in Afghanistan, al-Libi was elevated to al-Qaida's No. 2 spot when Ayman al-Zawahri rose to replace bin Laden, shortly after the terror leader was killed on May 2, 2011.
Carney would not confirm how he was killed, but an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was in a drone strike Monday morning. Pakistani officials had previously said eight militants died in a drone strike in the village of Khassu Khel in the North Waziristan tribal area.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The mud and brick house was destroyed, as was a vehicle used by al-Libi, officials said.
The United States has carried out a flurry of drone strikes recently, seven in less than two weeks, some of which appeared to have been trying to target al-Libi. He appeared to have been wounded in one of those strikes, but there were conflicting accounts as to which one.