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Al-Libi’s death deals blow to al-Qaeda standing across Asia

Analysis by Martin Sieff
Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born top al-Qaeda leader shown in a January 2008 video clip, was reported killed in the Pakistani border area. His death continues the decimation of the organization’s leadership. [Reuters]

Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born top al-Qaeda leader shown in a January 2008 video clip, was reported killed in the Pakistani border area. His death continues the decimation of the organization’s leadership. [Reuters]

The reported killing of al-Qaeda No. 2 leader Abu Yahya al-Libi during a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, on June 4 continues the decimation of the organization’s leadership.

At least five senior leaders of the organization have been killed since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. SEAL team commando strike in his villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.

Al-Libi’s killing in particular looks likely to isolate al-Qaeda’s beleaguered surviving core forces in northwestern Pakistan and further shatter their prestige and influence over Islamist movements across Asia, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

The Libyan-born al-Libi - whose original name was Mohamed Hassan Qaid - had served as al-Qaeda’s deputy leader to Ayman al-Zawahri. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor, has run the organization for many years.

New video authenticity doubted

U.S. intelligence analysts believe the recently released video of al-Libi was in fact one of several made prior to his death. "It is not unknown for groups to release videos of key figures that were filmed prior to their death but had not yet been released," an analyst with the terrorist tracking group IntelCenter told ABC News. These videos were made to maintain the fiction that he was still alive in the event of his being killed in an air strike, according to analysts. The video contained no clear proof it was made after the June 4 drone strike.

Al-Libi’s death demonstrates the ongoing strategic success of using intelligence to pinpoint al-Qaeda and other terror group leaders for instant elimination in drone strikes.

This strategy against the group’s leadership already proved successful for Saudi security forces in destroying al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia from 2002 to 2006. It is proving even more effective in destroying the main al-Qaeda organization in its refuges in northwestern Pakistan.

The toll of al-Qaeda leaders killed by U.S. and allied security forces in the region includes:

• Atiyah Abdel Rahman, who had operated as bin Laden’s director of communications, was killed on Aug. 22, 2011.

• Aslam Awan, also known as Abdullah Khorasani and also from Pakistan, who was killed Jan. 11, 2012. He was the number two commander of al-Qaeda's increasingly fraying external operations network.

• Badr Mansoor, a Pakistani citizen who commanded al-Qaeda forces throughout the country, was killed on Feb. 9,2012. Like al-Libi, he was an experienced and irreplaceable liaison with the Taliban and other jihadi movements in Pakistan.

• Jamil ur Rahman, a Taliban deputy shadow governor of Nuristan province, who died along with one of his commanders in a precision air strike in that region on May 23, 2012.

• And on May 27, 2012, al-Qaeda’s deputy commander in Afghanistan Sakhr al-Taifi died in another U.S. drone attack in the east of the country.

Terror groups suffer setbacks

These successes are only the tip of a far wider, ongoing strategic success: Over the past 18 months, movements have been on the retreat and have suffered an ongoing series of defeats and setbacks in India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia

Nor have any groups affiliated with or influenced by al-Qaeda been able to make headway in Central Asia. Prosperous Kazakhstan and tightly controlled Turkmenistan remain impervious to them. Al-Qaeda and its allies have not been able to capitalize on what many thought were advantageous conditions to carry out attacks in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even Tajikistan. The Central Asian nations have been working on improving their cooperation in fighting extreme Islamist and other potential terror forces.

In April, Moro Islamic Liberation Front officials met with representatives of the Philippine government in Malaysia and signed an agreement to bring peace at last to the island of Mindanao. Abu Sayyaf has been reduced from forces thousands strong to scattered groups on the run and numbering only a few hundred.

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, Jamaah Islamiyah is now regarded as defunct. Security forces take the threat of potential terror attacks by far smaller and extreme cells seriously, and there has been no significant terror attack since the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta nearly three years ago on July 16, 2009.

The decline of local terrorist organizations only heightens the significance of al-Libi’s death. Where popular, well-established and well-organized extremist movements no longer exist, scattered extremists depend on “terror international” organizations. Bin Laden and his central al-Qaeda group aspired to fill that role, but they too, have been decimated by successful international anti-terrorism efforts.

Potential new leaders lack appeal

Potential fifth generation leaders have emerged who may succeed al-Libi in trying to run the remains of al-Qaeda.

Possible leaders include the organization’s current director of operations, Saudi-born Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, 36, who grew up in Brooklyn and Florida in the United States; Jaber el-Baneh, 45, born in Yemen and spent time in the United States; U.S.-born Adam Gadahn, 33; religious leader Sheikh Khalid Abdur Rahman al-Hussainan, 45, from Kuwait; and bomb-making expert Ali Sayyid Muhamed Mustafa al-Bakri, 46, from Egypt, according to the New York Post.

But none of these individuals has the stature, diplomatic skills or personal credibility and network of personal contacts, especially with the Taliban, that al-Libi enjoyed. His operational experience went back more than a quarter century to his days as a mujahedeen guerrilla fighting the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The decapitation strategy against al-Qaeda leaders followed by the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United States and other nations, coupled with the highly effective counter-terrorism strategies carried out by the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, have transformed the security calculus across Asia.

The continuing campaign has been a classic example where the success of tactical operations carried out on a large and consistently successful scale have generated far greater changes on the strategic and international level.


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