US officials have confirmed that al Qaeda's second-in-command Abu Yahya al Libi was killed in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan. Security experts say his death is a major blow for al Qaeda.
Al Libi became al Qaeda's second-in-command after his predecessor Atiyah al Rahman was killed in a drone strike last August.
The Libyan citizen is thought to have been an inspirational mouthpiece with religious credentials lacked by other al Qaeda leaders.
He was relatively unknown until he made a dramatic escape from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005 where he had been detained after being captured by US forces a decade ago.
Pakistani defense analyst and retired General Talat Masood told DW that the US had been following al Libi's movements for a long time, and that he was sure that the al Qaeda leader had indeed been killed.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday that al Libi's death was a "major blow" to al Qaeda and it would be difficult for the group to find a substitute for him.
"His death is part of the degradation that has been taking place to core al Qaeda during the past several years and that degradation has depleted the ranks to such an extent that there's no clear successor," he added.
"Al Libi was the most important al Qaeda leader as far as the operational side of the organization is concerned," agreed Masood. "I would say that al Qaeda has been greatly harmed and the morale of its followers has also been affected. Al Qaeda's other leaders are on the run and it has become very difficult for al Qaeda to operate effectively."
Complicating matters for Islamabad
The fact that Al Libi was killed by a drone strike will serve to complicate matters for the Pakistani government, which has repeatedly said in public that the US missile strikes are a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Now that al Libi has been killed, experts predict it will become more difficult for Islamabad to criticize drone strikes.
"It is a great dilemma for Pakistan," said Massood. "Drone strikes kill the enemies of Pakistan who are harming it, yet Pakistan condemns the strikes."
"The strikes erode the authority of the Pakistani government," he continued. "They make the government look weak and helpless. At the same time, it is legally and morally incorrect to carry out drone strikes in an ally's territory and kill people without giving them a chance of a fair trial."
For his part, Ali K. Chishti, a Karachi-based security and political analyst, told DW that the "drone strategy has worked out well for everyone except al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan." He pointed out that the strikes had forced militants to restrict their movements.
Many experts support the use of unilateral drone strikes because of the fact that many of the world's most-wanted terrorists are in hiding and the Pakistani government seems reluctant to act against them.
Moreover, US officials have repeatedly expressed their lack of trust in Pakistan’s security establishment, which they claim is backing certain Taliban groups.
Not everyone is in favor however. "Technically, they are a violation of sovereignty," criticized Asha'ar Rehman, a Lahore-based journalist. "If there is any agreement between Washington and Islamabad on this, it is too loose."
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Anne Thomas