I really need to find time to do a primer on this guy, but finals are going to be interfering with that for the immediate future. In the meantime, let me just make a couple of important clarifications to yesterday's quickie briefing based on what I gathered mostly from talking to people yesterday as well as watching media coverage on the US cable networks:
- His skin disorder may be leucoderma (vitiligo), not psoriasis as I had previously stated below. I have no idea what the difference is between the two conditions, though a doctor (or Catfish N' Cod blog) could probably tell you.
- A member of his IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, though I believe they changed their name a little while ago) bodyguard detail may have betrayed him, leading to his capture. There are a variety of reasons why this might be the case such as money or simple resentment, as Arab al-Qaeda members tend to look down on the South and Central Asian members of the organization. That's usually a Saudi/Gulf Arab trait, though, whereas al-Libbi is a North African who are normally above such things. Another account says that the "Pakistan's most wanted" program paid off and one of the Mardan locals tipped the right people off that there were foreign terrorists in the area of Shandan, both of which are Peshawar. Yet another account claims that he was betrayed as a result of his satellite phone.
It is entirely possible to reconcile all three accounts into a coherent narrative.
- In my primer yesterday, I deliberately refrained from calling him the #3 guy in al-Qaeda. The reason for this is because (and this is hardly just me talking here) the current #3 is Saif al-Adel, who is currently based out of eastern Iran and has been since late 2001 or early 2002. Al-Libbi, like his colleague Hamza al-Masri (the "Egyptian" I referenced yesteday) were both aides to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and extremely dangerous men in the al-Qaeda hierarchy who have been linked to terrorist plots in Pakistan (including the near-assassination of General Musharraf and the Karachi Corps Commander), the UK, and the United States. I don't want to downplay their importance, but I also don't want to overplay it. What I was told was that al-Libbi was a "Zarqawi-level figure as far as the Pakistani jihadis are concerned" and you can read into that what you will.
- He is not Anas al-Libbi, who is a member of the al-Qaeda ruling council and a prominent leader with the Libyan Fighting Islamic Group. He has variously been reported as being captured at a number of points in 2002, though I've never seen that confirmed anywhere. As to the idea that al-Libbi not being on the list of FBI's most wanted terrorists means anything, that's patently absurd. In order to get on the most wanted list you have to be indicted, which a number of prominent al-Qaeda leaders have not.
- He was born in Libya in 1965 under the first name Ibrahim and was also known within al-Qaeda as "Dr. Tawfiq." He fought in the Afghan jihad and became of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's deputies working under Abdul Rasul Sayyaf as well as bin Laden. He lived in Pakistan from 1989 to 1991, then moved to Sudan with bin Laden and helped to manage his companies there. He knows Pakistan pretty well, has good contacts in all the major jihadi organizations (preferring to rely on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi over the Lashkar-e-Taiba due to the fact that he considers the latter compromised due its continued ties to the Pakistani state) and has shifted his base of operations back and forth between Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, and Peshawar from 2002-2005. That he was captured so close to Peshawar would seem to confirm my earlier speculation that al-Qaeda leaders like to base themselves in major Pakistani cities.
Anyways, hope this information proves useful. If verification is needed for any of this, drop a comment and I'll try to source what I can.
UPDATE: Chrenkoff has a before and after photo of al-Libi that's worth your time - plus an amusing gallery of fellow "before and after" shots.