Breaking: AQ capo al-Libi killed by airstrike?

That’d be Abu Laith al-Libi, not to be confused with his degenerate terrorist colleague Abu Yahya al-Libi. Get ’em straight, because the latter will be appearing in a new video soon enough and the dumber elements of the left will tout it as proof that the former wasn’t killed after all.

Cause of death? The announcement on the jihadi forums doesn’t say, but the U.S. tried to send a missile down his chimney last June and the airstrike on a jihadi hideout earlier this week in Pakistan apparently killed his deputy. You do the math.

He’s a big fish, although it’s not clear precisely how big. Revisit my post about the summer Predator strike for some bio. He’s a jihadist and Taliban ally of longstanding, and by almost all accounts is an important commander in Afghanistan. The question is how closely affiliated he is with Al Qaeda proper. From WaPo’s profile:

Al-Qaeda has named Libi one of its primary field commanders in Afghanistan. Jarret Brachman, research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said Libi has close contacts with al-Qaeda’s top echelon.

“It’s clear he’s plugged in at the senior level,” Brachman said. “That’s apparently al-Qaeda’s intent, to raise his operational battle credentials.”

Yeah, whether he’s palsy walsy with Osama or not, AQ clearly wanted to boost his influence among the jihadists in Afghanistan and abroad. His presence in their videos increased notably last year, the most recent cameo coming in November when as-Sahab announced that al-Libi’s outfit, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was formally joining AQ and his star turn coming a few months before that in a 45-minute Zawahiri-esque monologue on the usual jihad/infidel/Islam potpourri. You can watch that here; good luck sitting through more than two minutes of it.

Some analysts think he was as high as number three. I’m skeptical, but whatever the number, he was high. Au revoir.

Update: For what it’s worth:

CNN Middle East analyst Octavia Nasr called al-Libi the third-ranking terrorist in al Qaeda and fourth in the world…

The loss of the Libyan could hamper al Qaeda’s efforts to establish a strong base of operations in North Africa, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson said.