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Al-Libi ran al Qaeda central's propaganda machine

Published Jun 06, 2012 06:00am


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Abu Yahya al Libi—Reuters Photo
Abu Yahya al Libi—Reuters Photo

WASHINGTON: A theologian who rose to prominence in 2005 when he escaped US custody in Afghanistan, Abu Yahya al-Libi became a major motivational figure for al Qaeda, masterminding its propaganda machine.

American officials have described Libi as second-in-command to Ayman al-Zawahiri but security experts say his main value was as an inspirational mouthpiece with the religious credentials other al Qaeda leaders lacked.

A Libyan citizen who spent two years studying in Africa, Libi had a $1 million US price tag on his head before being taken out in a CIA drone strike on Monday in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to US officials.

Libi's role was made clear by the documents retrieved by US commandos from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad lair, said terrorism expert Bill Braniff.

“One of the things that bin Laden was really struggling with was that individuals were conducting all sorts of really violent attacks but they had sort of lost their way with respect to al Qaeda's original mission,” Braniff, executive director of the START consortium, told AFP.

“So it was very important for bin Laden to have individuals like Abu Yahya al-Libi who could guide the next generation of militants to conduct the right kind of violence.”

Born on January 1, 1963 in Libya, Libi was a relatively unknown militant preacher before his dramatic escape in 2005 from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan catapulted him into the highest echelons of the organisation.

After picking a lock, Libi and three others reportedly sneaked past their guards to freedom, much to the embarrassment of the United States and its allies—and much to the delight of al Qaeda and its supporters.

His escape quickly attained even more significance as he began appearing in videos for al Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab, promoting the cause and selling the message to a new generation of recruits.

Always wearing a trademark black turban, Libi sometimes traded white robes for military fatigues, depending on his message.

In one video he chastised Muslim scholars for condemning suicide bombings, while in another he urged the faithful to seek revenge for a Danish newspaper's cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

The former detainee, who picked up Pashto and Urdu, was constantly on the move, shuffling between North and South Waziristan.

He made 17 audio or video releases between 2006 and 2008 outlining al Qaeda's long-term objectives and target preferences, according to the US-based IntelCenter, which monitors militant websites.

“He had theological expertise from al Qaeda's vantage point and he was a huge propaganda piece as a result of all that,” said Braniff.

“Distinguished from a lot of the other militant media or propaganda outlets, As-Sahab was the main line to al Qaeda core's ideology for people that were geographically distributed, and he was the person who was often voicing al Qaeda's messaging.”

The US State Department's Rewards for Justice biography of Libi lists several aliases for the 49-year-old black-bearded Libyan before going on to explain why he merited a reward of up to $1 million.

“Al-Libi is a key motivator in the global militant movement and his messages convey a clear threat to US persons or property worldwide,” it says.

According to the New York Times, Libi went to Afghanistan in the early 1990s before being sent back to study in Mauritania. On his return he toured al Qaeda training camps, preaching militant Islam in a country that had fallen under the control of the extremist Taliban.

He was captured by Pakistani authorities in 2002 and turned over to the Americans before being incarcerated at Bagram.

Informers started giving reports about his presence in North Waziristan in early 2008, placing him in Mir Ali, Datta Khel and Miranshah, three towns that have regularly come under US drone attacks.

Libi, known as a poet and an orator, led a secluded life but was always in the spotlight because of his video speeches.

He was a staunch critic of the Pakistani military, denouncing it as an unholy force of  US paid agents. He is not the second in command, but one of al Qaeda's main ideologues, a scholar, and very popular and influential among al Qaeda recruits,” a Western anti-terrorism official based in Pakistan told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“He is definitely in the top five of al Qaeda. If he was killed, it's another big catch,” the official said, shortly before Libi's death was confirmed.


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Comments (14) Closed

Shah Deeldar Jun 06, 2012 03:50pm
It would have been nicer if Pakistan could do the job by itself. How can these people come to pakistan and do whatever they want? How can Pakistan cry about sovereignty when it does not have any sovereignty in those those parts of Pakistan? You either own it or you don't!
Goga Nalaik Jun 06, 2012 06:49am
Excellent news!
Cyrus Howell Jun 06, 2012 08:23am
We should find that there will be fewer American drones strikes now that al-Libi is dead. I am guessing he was the one Washington was after, the probable successor to bin Laden.
Iqbal Ali Jun 06, 2012 08:46pm
Can any one shed some light on how he escaped from the Afghan prison?
Pavas Jun 07, 2012 05:54pm
Sir, I haven't forgot anything..You are taking my comment particularly for this person, but my comment was rather more general in nature..There have been a number of incidents where Pakistani government and its military failed miserably to capture notable terrorists who had been in right under it's nose for a considerable long time..Osama bin Laden, Baitullah Mehsood, Saeed al Masri are name to few.. I don't think they have done anything good to Pakistan or Islam in general..So, I think CIA/ NATO have really done a commendable job by liberating this beautiful place from these ferocious criminals and we must thank them for this..
Aert Jun 07, 2012 02:18am
Another terrorist in 'hiding' in Pakistan. Anyone surprised?
mike rauf Jun 07, 2012 12:01am
Read what Panetta said today...
Malik Jun 06, 2012 06:02pm
Good Riddance. God bless America
FmD Jun 07, 2012 01:57pm
This news came from same sources who were "sure" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, who knows if this guy is alive or not or who has been killed in the latest drone bullying.
Ali Jun 07, 2012 01:46pm
may be he "escaped" from the security prison of US as pointed although would that matter now since it was US itself who incarcerated him to ashes... had he kept this big mouth shut up, would have lived the rest of his life in peace, but then US are not in AFPAK for picnic.
Devendra Jun 06, 2012 06:46pm
Who is next? Ayman Al Zawahiri has to be it. I hope Zawahiri has his papers in order as the next Drone missile has his name on it. I know Pakistan has repeatedly said Zawahiri is NOT in Pakistan. That in itself is a guarantee that he is IN Pakistan. Once Zawahiri is gone, the world and even a majority of Pakistanis might take a sigh of relief.
Salman Jun 07, 2012 07:30am
you forgot a key point. He was captured by Pakistan and handed over to US authorities, and then he "escaped" from the maximum security prison of US. Factor in this little piece of fact, and your story wouldnt make much sense. But then again, who cares about sense these, its all about the bigger mouth.
Pavas Jun 06, 2012 09:25am
Really awesome news..It just shows the drone attacks on Pakistan are justified as it had killed a lot of militants in Pakistan which Pakistani Government or its army was unable to capture..It also pinpoints the trend that Muslim terrorists from every corner of the world take shelter in Pakistan or Afghanistan..Well Done CIA!! Your determination is really admirable and thanks for making this world free from one more terrorist...
JAY KOMERATH Jun 06, 2012 02:10pm