CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — One al-Qaida's top commanders in Afghanistan and a key liaison with Taliban, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed according to a Web site used by militant groups.
"We congratulate the Islamic nation for the martyrdom of the sheik, the lion, Abu Laith al-Libi," said the banner which appeared in a section of the Web site reserved for affiliated militant groups and is not open to public posting.
The Washington-based SITE Institute which monitors militant sites noted that it seems "the announcement of his death has been confirmed to the forum administrators."
The attack that killed al-Libi appeared to have taken place in Pakistan.
Pakistani intelligence officials and local residents said that a missile hit a compound in a village about 2.5 miles outside Mir Ali in North Waziristan late Monday or early Tuesday, destroying the facility.
Residents said they were not allowed to approach the site of the blast and the Pakistan government and military said they did not know who fired the missile. Local officials said that foreigners were targeted in the attack.
One intelligence official in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a the bodies of those killed were badly mangled by the force of the explosion and it was difficult to identify those killed. The official estimated 12 people were killed, including Arabs, Turkmen from central Asia and local Taliban members.
Two top officials of Pakistan's Interior Ministry said they could not confirm al-Libi's death and were still trying to gather details on the missile strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the attack.
A knowledgeable Western official said that "it appears at this point that Al-Libi has met his demise," but declined to talk about the circumstances. "It was a major success in taking one of the top terrorists in the world off the street," the official said. He added that the death occurred "within the last few days."
Al-Libi was an al-Qaida training camp leader who has appeared in many Internet videos and who the U.S. says was likely behind the Feb. 2007 bombing at the U.S. base at Bagram during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that killed 23 people.
He was listed among the 12 most-wanted men the U.S. offered a US$200,000 reward for five.
Pakistani counterterrorism officials say al-Libi — "the Libyan" in Arabic language — has served as an al-Qaida spokesman and commander in eastern Afghanistan. They say they have no information on his current whereabouts.
Al-Qaida's media wing, al-Sahab, released a video interview with a bearded man identified as al-Libi in spring 2007. In it, the militant accused Shiite Muslims of fighting alongside American forces in Iraq, and claimed that mujahideen would crush foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said last year that al-Libi was a guerrilla fighter "knowledgeable about how to conduct suicide bombing missions and how to inflict the most civilian casualties." He had probably directed "one or more terror training camps."
In a tacit admission that terror camps have continued to operate on Afghan soil since the Taliban regime's ouster more than five years ago, Belcher said al-Libi had been the subject of "especially close focus" by U.S. intelligence since 2005, when U.S. forces destroyed a militant training camp believed set up by al-Libi in the eastern province of Khost.
But he described al-Libi as "transient," moving where the Libyan thinks he can count on support.
"Terrorists like al-Libi use the rugged terrain of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to conceal themselves while they plan violent insurgent activities. Our sources indicate that Abu Laith al-Libi favors tribal regions, including North Waziristan," Belcher said.
North Waziristan is a lawless enclave in neighboring Pakistan where last year the Pakistani government reached a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants. U.S. officials have since expressed concern that al-Qaida could be regrouping in Pakistan's border zone.