Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaida's second in command, was killed in Monday's strike in Khassu Khel village in North Waziristan along the Afghan border, an anonymous U.S. official told the Associated Press Tuesday. White House spokesman Jay Carney later confirmed the news.
According to the Pakistani intelligence, 15 people were killed over three days of drone strikes targeting al-Libi. Earlier, a local Taliban chief told the Associated Press that although al-Libi's guard and driver were killed in the strike on a mud and brick house, al-Libi wasn't there.
"Al-Libi's death is a major blow to core al-Qaida, removing the number-two leader for the second time in less than a year, and further damaging the group's morale and cohesion and bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever before," Carney said. He repeatedly declined to confirm the claim that the extremist fighter had perished in an American drone strike, which could further inflame already terrible diplomatic relations between the uneasy allies.
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Al-Libi's death is the latest in what AP terms "the dozen-plus senior commanders removed in the clandestine U.S. war against al-Qaida" since Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in a raid on his compound last year. After bin Laden's death, Ayman al-Zawahiri—one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted terrorists—was elevated to the head of al-Qaida, and al-Libi moved into the No. 2 slot.
The White House, which has increased its drone operations under President Barack Obama, maintains a so-called "kill list" of terrorist targets. U.S. intelligence officials confirmed to Agence France-Presse that al-Libi was the intended target of Monday's drone strike.
The State Department had been offering a reward of up to $1 million for al-Libi's capture. Al-Libi was captured in 2002 and imprisoned at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. government, but he escaped in 2005.
Pakistan, which has objected to the drone strikes, did so again on Tuesday, saying the attacks are "a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty."
Olivier Knox contributed to this report. Updated June 5 at 5:52 p.m. EST.
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