Abu Yahya al-Libi's death deprives al Qaeda of 1 of few remaining top bosses

Abu Yahya al-Libi
A frame shot of a video posted on the Internet by the al Qaeda-linked media group As-Sahab shows Libyan Mohammed Hassan, also known as Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi, speaking in an undisclosed location on an unknown date.
AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) Al Qaeda's number two - Abu Yahya al-Libi - had escaped from an American prison in Afghanistan and dodged hellfire missiles aimed at him from U.S. drones.

But al-Libi's luck ran out this week. The United States confirmed Tuesday that an American drone strike had killed him a day earlier in northern Pakistan.

Abu Yahya al-Libi was one of the last-remaining pillars of al Qaeda's core, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. He was often the public face of terror, appearing in dozens of videos urging new strikes against the U.S. and its allies.

But the charismatic terrorist was more than a propagandist. Al-Libi sat on al Qaeda's governing council, and as the top deputy to new al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri, al-Libi, oversaw external operations.

U.S. officials say al-Libi was at the center of planning new attacks and coordinating al Qaeda's outreach to top affiliates like al Qaeda in Yemen.

CBS News correspondent John Miller says that, with his demise, al Qaeda also loses, in effect, their Chief Operating Officer, the guy who went through the day-to-day job of running the complex organization. Having subordinates like al-Libi allowed Osama bin Laden to hide for as long as he did - years longer than he would have if he were involved in the day-to-day business - and it's also provided insulation to al-Zawahiri.

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Al Qaeda has also lost one of its few remaining high-profile, prolific voices. Al Libi made 39 videos and was viewed within the organization as a legitimate scholar, sitting on the religious council as well as al Qaeda's board of directors. We have heard many times that the latest "number 2" in al Qaeda has been killed, but this may be the last commander within the organization with this level of management capability, says Miller.

Zawahiri has two choices now to replace al-Libi, and both of them are bad. He can reach lower into an organization who's most capable people have been taken out in drone strikes and pick someone who is willing, or he can assume more of the job himself - which would expose him to a greater risk of meeting the same end.

(Below, watch Orr's report on the details of al-Libi's killing)