The latest 'top Al Qaeda leader' reported killed in Pakistan
The US says it has confirmed that it killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, an Al Qaeda leader who escaped US custody in 2005, in a drone strike in Pakistan, but what's in this report?
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If this latest report of Libi's demise holds up (Pakistani officials falsely asserted in 2009 he had been killed in a US attack), a man who was directly involved in encouraging attacks on the US will have been removed from the equation.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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But the bigger discussion of whether all this is appropriate will continue, particularly following a New York Times report last week that said Obama has "placed himself at the helm of a top secret 'nominations' process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical."
The US has been assassinating designated enemies with drones as far back as 2002 and labels most of the people who end up dead in such attacks militants who had it coming. How many of the dead were simply acquaintances of the targets will probably never be known.
Will the power to carry out long-term international assassination campaigns become a presidential prerogative through force of habit? That's the road the US is heading down now.
And are all these deaths in America's long-term interests? That's a thorny question right there. Libi for all his association with Al Qaeda, was probably among the moderates within the groups thinkers, reported to be an opponent of takfir – the practice of declaring all Muslims out of step with Al Qaeda's views on the faith as apostates, deserving of death – and some who follow the group believe his death may just create space for someone more extreme to climb up the ladder.
"If he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally) have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true. What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear. In the years to come, owing to this generation being killed off, this type of restraint will disappear; in fact it is clearly already heading in this direction. A significant part of this change is directly attributable to the counter terrorism strategies being employed today."
Many, no doubt, will disagree with her analysis. But some reflection on whether "kill, kill, kill" is an effective long-term strategy against a jihadi movement that is built around an ideology that spreads in Internet chatrooms as easily as it does in militant training camps, will be useful in the years ahead (I and some other reporters looked at the question of rehabilitation programs for militants in a recent edition of the Monitor's magazine).