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May 2, 2005: Al-Qaeda’s Alleged Number Three Leader Al-Libbi Is Captured; Some Suggest His Importance Is Overhyped

Abu Faraj al-Libbi.Abu Faraj al-Libbi. [Source: Pakistani Interior Ministry]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi is arrested in Mardan, Pakistan, near the town of Peshawar. He is captured by Pakistani forces with US assistance. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will later claim that he doesn’t even tell the US about al-Libbi’s capture until a few days after it happened (and the first media account comes out three days later), so apparently Pakistan interrogates him on their own for a few days. Al-Libbi is that turned over to the US and detained in a secret CIA prison (see September 2-3, 2006). [New York Times, 5/5/2005; Musharraf, 2006, pp. 209]
Some Call Al-Libbi High-Ranking Leader - In 2004, the Daily Telegraph claimed al-Libbi was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s “right hand man” and helped him plan the 9/11 attacks. After Mohammed was arrested in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), Al-Libbi allegedly took his place and became the third in command of al-Qaeda and the group’s operational leader. Furthermore, the Telegraph claims he was once Osama bin Laden’s personal assistant, helped plan two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003), and has been in contact with sleeper cells in the US and Britain. [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2004] The same month, MSNBC made the same claims. They also called him al-Qaeda’s number three leader and operational commander. [MSNBC, 9/7/2004] President Bush hails al-Libbi’s capture as a “critical victory in the war on terror.” Bush also calls him a “top general” and “a major facilitator and chief planner for the al-Qaeda network.”
Al-Libbi Little Known to Media and Experts - But al-Libbi is little known at the time of his arrest and some experts and insiders question if he really is as important as the US claims. The London Times will report several days after his arrest, “[T]he backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI’s most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department ‘Rewards for Justice’ program.” One former close associate of Osama bin Laden now living in London laughs at al-Libbi’s supposed importance, saying, “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.” Even a senior FBI official admits that his “influence and position have been overstated.” The Times comments, “Some believe [his] significance has been cynically hyped by two countries [the US and Pakistan] that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.” [London Times, 5/8/2005] However, later revelations, such as details on al-Libbi’s interrogation (see Shortly After May 2, 2005 and Late 2005), will provide more evidence that al-Libbi in fact was al-Qaeda’s operational leader. It is not known why the FBI did not have him on their most wanted list, if MSNBC and the Telegraph newspaper and other sources were already aware of his importance in 2004.

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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