One of Al Qaeda's top strategists and a prominent figure in the network, Abu Yahya al-Libi, may have been killed in a drone strike in north-west Pakistan, the country's intelligence officials say.
If his death is confirmed it would be the biggest blow to Al Qaeda since United States special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a secret raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
US sources said al-Libi, a Libyan cleric with a degree in chemistry who has survived previous drone attacks, was a target of a strike early on Monday (local time) in the North Waziristan tribal region, home to some of the world's most notorious militant groups, says ABC Online.
US officials have described Mr al-Libi, whose real name is Mohamed Hassan Qaid, as number two to Mr al-Zawahiri, the former Egyptian doctor who took over al-Qaeda after bin Laden's death.
Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters they believe Mr al-Libi (which means Libyan in Arabic) may have been among seven foreign militants killed in Monday's strike.
One of the officials said authorities had intercepted telephone chatter about Mr al-Libi whose escape from a US-run prison in Afghanistan in 2005 made him famous in al-Qaeda circles, acording to Financial Times.
Ben Venzke, an analyst at the US-based IntelCenter, said that if Libi were to be killed, "confirmation will come fairly quickly from core Al-Qaeda," including written statements and online video eulogies. "The loss of Abu Yahya al-Libi would be felt throughout the jihadi community as he has been one of the most visible jihadi figures from any of the groups around the world, with prolific video releases and writings," he said.
Libi was captured in 2002, after NATO forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, and was held at the US high-security prison at Bagram Air Base. But he escaped three years later, giving him added notoriety among militants, informs Frontier Post.