Published June 05, 2012
Abu Yahya Al-Libi, a top Al Qaeda operative was killed in a U.S. drone strike Monday, Fox News confirms.
Al-Libi, known as a rock star in the jihadist world with his videos and lectures going viral on the Web, was the intended target of the strike, U.S. officials said.
The strikes have been increasingly unpopular among Pakistanis, but successful in recent years at taking out terrorist leaders.
Pakistan has evidence that Al-Libi was in a house hit by the U.S. drone strike, but it was initially unclear whether he was killed.
A U.S. official later confirmed his death.
“Abu Yahya was among al-Qaeda’s most experienced and versatile leaders," the official said. He "played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts.”
U.S. officials originally said they were "optimistic" Al-Libi was among the eight militants reportedly killed in the strike in the tribal region of North Waziristan.They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the drone program.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, said intelligence officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
A vehicle used by al-Libi was destroyed during the strike, said one of the officials. Agents intercepted a militant phone call indicating an Arab was killed in the attack, but it was unclear if they were talking about al-Libi, who was born in Libya, said the official.
A local Taliban chief said al-Libi's guard and driver were killed in the strike, but the Al Qaeda commander was not there. Al-Libi did survive a previous strike, said the Taliban chief, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the Pakistani army.
It was the third strike in three days in Pakistan, with a Taliban leader killed in the first strike. And it was said to be the eighth strike in the last two weeks.
The target zone, Mir Ali, is described by sources as a terrorist haven that is a "crossroads" for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the latest strike, according to Pakistani officials, is believed to have killed foreign fighters -- code for Arab members of Al Qaeda or Western recruits.
As for Al-Libi, he made his name in July 2005 when he escaped from this high security U.S. prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, along with three other Al Qaeda members. In keeping with his reputation, Al-Libi made a 54-minute video documenting his capture by the Pakistanis, his handover to U.S. authorities and escape from the prison.
Al-Libi is known as a preacher and scholar who more recently took the second-in-command spot when Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri took charge of Al Qaeda after Usama bin Laden's death. As Al Qaeda's de facto general manager, al-Libi oversaw the group's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal areas and managed outreach to Al Qaeda's regional affiliates.
The State Department's Rewards for Justice program had set a $1 million reward for information leading to the Libyan-born fugitive.
Despite the progress in taking out Al Qaeda leadership, the U.S. drone campaign had been in a holding pattern before the NATO summit in Chicago last month in an effort to mend fences. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to reach a deal with the Pakistanis to re-open supply lines for NATO forces, the drone program resumed.
"This is one of the more prominent names" among the targets of drone strikes in Pakistan, which helps bolster the CIA's push to continue the drone program despite the continued political resistance from Pakistan and collateral damage, added former CIA officer Paul Pillar.
FoxNews.com's Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.