Death of Atiyah abd al-Rahman rocks terror group still reeling from bin Laden killing
Al-Qaeda's new second-in-command was killed last week in
Pakistan, US officials said Saturday, in a major blow to the group still
reeling from the death of Osama bin Laden.
Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a Libyan national, rose to the number
two spot when Ayman al-Zawahri took the reins of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was
killed in May in a US raid in Pakistan.
One US official said Rahman was killed in a strike by an
unmanned drone on August 22. He was killed in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan
where intelligence officials believe members of al-Qaeda are hiding, other US
"Atiyah's death is a tremendous loss for al-Qaeda,
because [Zawahri] was relying heavily on him to help guide and run the
organization, especially since bin Laden's death," one US official said.
"The trove of materials from bin Laden's compound
showed clearly that Atiyah was deeply involved in directing al-Qaeda's
operations even before the [May] raid. He had multiple responsibilities in the
organization and will be very difficult to replace," the official said.
US and Pakistani intelligence ties have been strained since
the unilateral American strike against bin Laden, and Pakistani intelligence
did not confirm Rahman's death. Sources in Pakistan said four people known to
have been killed in a US drone strike on August 22 were local militants and not
Although most US officials described Rahman as al-Qaeda's
No. 2, one said his rank wasn't as clear, saying he could be considered one of
the top three leaders of the organization.
Regardless, Rahman's death, if confirmed, would signal another
significant setback for al-Qaeda's core group just days before the tenth
anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In the past decade, al-Qaeda's affiliates have become a
greater concern, with its Yemen-based off-shoot now seen in Washington as the
bigger threat to the United States.
Noman Benotman, a former Libyan Islamist and now an analyst
with Britain's Quilliam think tank, described Rahman as al-Qaeda's "CEO,"
or chief executive officer.
"This was the one man al-Qaeda could not afford to
lose," Benotman said.
"In the last two years he successfully, and I think
more or less single-handedly, created the dynamics that kept al-Qaeda
Rahman was originally from the Libya, and his real name was
Jamal Ibrahim Ishtawi, Benotman said. A graduate of the engineering department
of Misrata University, he left Libya to go to Afghanistan in 1988 and join the
Islamist groups then fighting Soviet occupation, he added.
A US official said Rahman ran daily operations for the group,
spoke on behalf of bin Laden and Zawahri and was the one that "affiliates
knew and trusted."
"Zawahri needed Atiyah's experience and connections to
help manage al-Qaeda. Now it will be even harder for him to consolidate
control," the US official said.
Zawahri is believed to lack bin Laden's presence or his
ability to unite different Arab factions within the group, analysts say.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month on a visit
to Afghanistan that he believed the strategic defeat of al-Qaeda was within
reach if the United States could kill or capture up to 20 remaining leaders of
the core group and its affiliates.
"News of his demise underscores what Leon Panetta has
been saying for some time about al-Qaeda: it's important to sustain intense
pressure on this group of terrorists and thugs," a third senior US
"Dialing back on al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,
especially while they try to regroup after bin Laden's death, isn't the way to
go. For the sake of our national security, they need to be knocked out for