Washington/Islamabad: Al Qaeda's second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi, on whose head the US had put a bounty of $ 1 million, may have been killed in the latest CIA drone strike in Pakistan's lawless northwestern tribal region in which 15 militants had perished.
Libi, considered the most-prominent figure in al Qaeda after Ayman al-Zawahiri, was the main target of the drone strike on Monday at a militant compound near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan tribal region, and US officials were "optimistic" the Libyan had not survived.
If his death is confirmed, it will be a major setback to the terror network, whose chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US raid in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May last year.
US officials said that Libi, on whose head Washington had put a bounty of $ 1 million, was the target of the missile attack.
"People are looking very closely to see whether he is still alive," US officials were quoted by New York Times as saying.
A senior Pakistani security source in Peshawar also said, "It looks like he has been killed," the paper reported.
It quoted tribal sources in Mir Ali as saying that the Libyan ideologue was either killed or seriously wounded in the strike, which Pakistani officials said killed at least 15 militants.
US officials said that Libi, on whose head Washington had put a bounty of $ 1 million, was the target of the missile attack in North Waziristan, the third drone strike in as many days and the deadliest this year. "If his killing is confirmed, it could be a major blow to the core of al Qaeda."
CNN also reported that investigators were trying to determine whether Libi, who was in his late 40s, was injured or killed in yesterday's hit. Intelligence officials may find out his fate only from monitoring websites and chatter, it quoted as official as saying.
A senior Pakistani official was quoted as saying that investigators have to verify that Libi was among the dead.
Eight of the militants killed in the strike were "foreigners," with most of them Arabs, the Pakistani official said.
Libi took the second-in-command spot when Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahari took charge of al Qaeda after bin Laden's killing.
Libi oversaw the terror group's day-to-day operations in Pakistan's tribal areas and maintained links with its regional affiliates.
Top US intelligence officials said that degradation to core al Qaeda during the past several years had depleted the ranks to such an extent that the organisation could have no replacement for him.
Libi had been an influential al Qaeda commander and made a dramatic escape from a prison at Bagram Air base in Afghanistan in 2005. He was captured in 2002 after NATO forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
He became the international terror network's deputy leader after Atiyah abd al-Rahman, another Libyan national was killed in a US missile strike in North Waziristan last August.
Earlier too, Libi had been reported killed after a December 2009 drone strike in South Waziristan.
In the strike in which Libi was reported killed US had drones fired two missiles into a compound in the village of Hesokhel, east of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.
After the raid, Pakistani officials had said that among the victims had been foreigners, a term often used for Arab terrorists.