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U.S. drone strikes targeted Al Qaeda second-in-command

June 5, 2012 |  9:27 am

Pakistan-al-libi

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The fate of Al Qaeda’s second-in-command remained unknown Tuesday after Pakistani intelligence sources confirmed that U.S. drone missile strikes targeted the compound near the Afghan border where he was believed to be staying.

The death of Abu Yahya al-Libi would mark another significant milestone in Washington’s bid to dismantle the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Al-Libi became the top deputy after Ayman Zawahiri took over the militant group following the May 2011 U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

However, there were conflicting reports on whether Al-Libi was killed in the strikes, which occurred Monday in Hesokhel. The small village is located in North Waziristan, a tribal region that has long been a stronghold for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani network and a host of other militant groups.

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Some Pakistani intelligence sources said on Tuesday that it appeared Al-Libi, a Libyan national, may have been killed in the second of two drone strikes targeting the area. He was in a vehicle at the time, the sources said.

Other Pakistani intelligence sources, however, stressed there was no information on whether Al-Libi was killed in the strikes. Sources within the Pakistani Taliban denied that Al-Libi was slain, though they said his driver and another Al Qaeda militant died in the attack.

Washington has stepped up its drone campaign against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions in recent weeks, despite Islamabad’s repeated demands that the U.S. abandon the use of drone attacks against militant groups. Pakistani civilian and military leaders insist that the tactic violates their country’s sovereignty and provides tribesmen along the Afghan border a motive to join the ranks of insurgents.

Nevertheless, Washington has carried out seven drone strikes within Pakistan in the last two weeks.

In the aftermath of errant U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last November, Pakistani officials have demanded an end to all drone strikes as a condition to a full restoration of ties between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistani officials have yet to end a six-month blockade that has prevented Afghanistan-bound NATO supply convoys from using Pakistan as a transit route.

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Deputy Ambassador Richard Hoagland to protest the continuation of drone strikes on Pakistani territory. The issue, the ministry said in a prepared release, “represented a clear red line for Pakistan.”

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-- Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan

Photo: A 2007 file image purportedly shows Al Qaida militant Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was targeted in a U.S. drone missile strike Monday. It was not immediately clear whether he survived the attack. Credit: IntelCenter / Associated Press

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