Very curious. Pakistani media’s been reporting that the target was Abu Yahya al-Libi, a fish big enough that even a novice like me has heard of him. (He broke out of Bagram prison in 2005 and has been preaching his way up the ranks ever since, reportedly becoming head of the group’s “Libyan wing” and a possible successor to Bin Laden as figurehead.) That’s also the buzz on jihadi web forums. But it’s a red herring, says ABC: The splatter in this case belongs to a top capo named Saleh al-Somali.
According to the U.S. official, Saleh al-Somali was responsible for al Qaeda’s operations outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and formed part of al Qaeda’s senior leadership circle. He is also said to have had “connections with other Pakistan-based extremists.”
Al-Somali was engaged in plotting terrorist acts around the world and “given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe,” the official said.
Al-Somali took operations guidance from senior al Qaeda leaders and “translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks,” the official added.
If that’s true, he’s probably a more critical target than even al-Libi, whose chief use to the group is jihadi propagandizing. But is it true? Not only have I never heard of al-Somali but a quick Google search reveals that not many other people have either. Searching an alternate spelling of his first name does, however, reveal that they’ve had him in their sights for a while: He was reportedly the target of another drone strike last month that killed eight people. It’s bizarre that he’d hang around South Waziristan after that, knowing that the U.S. is hot to get him and with the Pakistani military in the area.
Bill Roggio and Long War Journal are always good for interesting details in situations like these. I’ll update when he chimes in. In the meantime, bummer for al-Somali that he doesn’t get a trial in New York, huh?