UPDATE (12:53 P.M., December 11): The same group of cyber jihadis are now reporting that Abu Yahya is "100%" (as opposed to only 80%) and "alive." Updates to follow as they become available. Some members are suggesting a revamping of forum rules to prevent "rumors from the kuffar [unbelievers]" to "pollute" the forum. The thread was started by a user in Pakistan (the same clown who made the horribly juvenile Lord of the Rings video about Prof. Jarret Brachman.
UPDATE #2 (1:43 P.M., December 11): CBS News is reporting that "local" Pakistani media is reporting that Abu Yahya was killed in the drone strike. No official confirmation from the U.S. or Pakistani governments, or al-Qa'ida Central.
UPDATE #3 (2:43 P.M., December 11): A third forum thread now says Abu Yahya has been "martyred," eliciting a heated response about the use of "non-mujahideen" media sources. There is also disagreement about when he was supposedly killed, with one forum user saying he was killed on Tuesday and not yesterday.
UPDATE #4 (2:55 P.M.): In the second thread (Update #2), user "dandapeerofpak" adamantly says that he has "confirmed" that Abu Yahya is NOT dead, but "Sheikh -----Shami of AQ" (perhaps Mansur al-Shami?) has been killed. They say the leader was killed in a Tuesday strike near Miran Shah in North Waziristan in Pakistan, not Thursday. No official confirmation.
The first post in the third thread (Update #3) has been "deleted On Request Of Members," in the same thread in which dandapeerofpak's adamant denial of the claim appears.
UPDATE #5 (4:01 P.M.): The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous source(s) seemingly using information from "Pakistani sources", reports that Abu Yahya was killed in North Waziristan near Miran Shah. No official confirmation.
UPDATE #6 (4:31 P.M.): ABC News reports that AQC "operations planner" Saleh al-Somali was killed in a Tuesday drone strike in Pakistan. (Hat tip to AbuMandM). AbuMandM notes that the Abu Yahya rumor seems to be connected to the Thursday strike in South Waziristan. Posts on The War Journal's Threat Matrix blog and al-Sahwa strategic affairs blog are leaning toward the belief that Abu Yahya was not killed.
UPDATE #7 (4:57 P.M.): The Times Online, a British newspaper, cites "senior Pakistani security officials" who say Abu Yahya was killed, with help from intelligence provided by Pakistan (of course).
UPDATE #8 (2:23 A.M., December 12): China's Xinhua news agency is citing sources connected to the "Pakistan Taliban" (unclear which group...perhaps Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan) who are denying reports that Abu Yahya was killed. TTP also denied its founder, Baytullah Mehsud, was killed in early August, but weeks later admitted he had "succumbed" to his wounds.
United States government officials are claiming to have killed at lease four people, including a "top leader" in al-Qa'ida Central (AQC), in an airstrike today in the Ladha region of South Waziristan in Pakistan's Pashtun tribal belt. The attack was reportedly carried out by an unmanned military drone, either a Predator or Reaper, which have been used with great success. Several top AQC leaders and their allies have been assassinated by drones, the most recent of which was Baytullah (Baitullah) Mehsud, the founder and former leader of Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan), who was killed in August. The Pakistani government and military is reportedly denying that a drone strike was carried out today. Mainstream news agencies are citing an anonymous U.S. government source who says the leader killed was not AQC chief Usama bin Laden or the group's chief ideologue, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Rumors are spreading among some cyber jihadis that this as-yet unnamed "top" AQC leader may be Abu Yahya al-Libi, who is considered by some expert analysts to be a rising star in the transnational jihadi movement. A skilled orator and respected jihadi-Salafi theologian, Abu Yahya first gained renown in 2005 when he and several other prisoners escaped from the U.S. military base at Bagram in Afghanistan (which was also a former Soviet base). Since then, he has appeared in dozens of AQC video productions and has addressed jihadis across the globe from Somalia to East Turkestan to North Africa, though he is believed to be (or have been) operating out of Pashtun areas of Pakistan. It is believed that he pursued formal studies in Islamic law and other religious studies in Mauritania, though some analysts dispute this claim. Regardless, Abu Yahya is a respected "theologian" among AQC supporters and has even recorded aural exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur'an. Making use of his theological credentials, real or embellished, he has written essays and monographs on a number of subjects, including condemning the Pakistani government and military as apostate institutions, how Muslim spies are to be punished, and whether and when it is permissible to kill other Muslims when engaged in warfare.
I have previously mentioned or written about Abu Yahya numerous times, but to take but one EXAMPLE.
A handful of members on one of the Ansarnet jihadi-Salafi forums have been involved in a lively discussion and debate about the rumor of Abu Yahya's death. Their passionate exchange suggests that the role of charismatic leaders and ideologues, which has been downplayed or written-off by some analysts, may not be so passé after all. In the remainder of this post, I will provide an annotated sketch of the discussion, interspersed with some artwork of Abu Yahya from my research archive. Explanatory notes appear in bold in brackets. All stylistic and grammatical errors have been left unedited, and different color or style fonts are in the original with the exception of the explanatory notes.
Reacting to the initial, single-line post about the rumor, user "Binyamine" says that he is "happy for the sheikh, and we should all pray that Allah [the one God] azza wajal [the Exalted] accept him amongst the martyr. BUT YET JIHAAD SHALL CONTINUE!!! inshaAllah [God willing]." They then warn, "InshaAllah we should wait for an official communique."
Another user follows up by posting a URL to an MSNBC online news story about the reported drone strike, eliciting excited questions from other users who cannot find a reference to Abu Yahya in it (because there aren't any).
Forum moderator "Asadullah Alshishani" [the Chechen] questions the reliability of the reports, writing: "First don't believe the words of the jews and KKKrusaders over that of the Mujahideen [warriors of faith], who thus far have said nothing." Aside from seemingly being familiar with vintage Ice Cube, Asadullah Alshishani (who uses a photograph of Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan as his avatar), accurately points out that no official statement has been made by AQC or affiliated groups.
He then says that even if the rumor is true, it is joyous news: "If then, then may God accept Sheikh Abu Yahya from amongst the Shuhada [martyrs] and grant him Jannat Al-Firdaws [Gardens of Paradise]. He has been rewarded with what we are all desperately seeking, martyrdom fi sibeel Allah [in God's path]."
In contrast, user "Saifullah al-Shimali", whose first name translates to "Sword of God," is dismayed by the rumor: "I can't find any news about it anywhere!! InshAllah its only a rumour!!" He has an interesting signature quote (in all caps): "Harban Alaa Kulli Harbin Silman Bikulli Musaalim...War to Every Aggressor and Peace to Every Peaceful Ones."
User "Asad'Allah" ["Lion of God"] follows Saifullah by posting a screenshot of a smiling Abu Yahya from one of his AQC videos.
The user who began the thread, "Sheikh_34," seeks to smooth over the ruckus he caused by summarizing his motives and the "facts" known thus far: "brothers I just wanted to tell you what I heard from other forums and contacts of mine. inshallah we will soon know if Shaykh al Libi is amongst the blessed shuhada or still fighting fisabilillah! U$ say it is NOT SHAYKH OSAMA but a very high ranking member of al Qaidat Shura [AQC's ruling council], could be Shaykh al Yazeed, Azzam al Amriki, Dr.Zawahiri or others, may Allah swt protect them all!." He references the general commander of AQC forces in Afghanistan (Mustafa Abu al-Yazid), the American AQC spokesman Adam Gadahn (who is known as 'Azzam al-Amriki, "the American"), and the group's chief ideologue, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a medical doctor by training.
After Saifullah again asks excitedly for a clarification of Sheikh_34's source(s), the latter replies: "akhi [my brother] I will change the subject of this post, because it is just rumours. Allah knows best and the most merciful may forgive me for spreading all the talking I heard. all we know is: high ranking al qaida mujahed [singular of "mujahideen"] was martyr´d in south waziristan inshallah." The closing illustrates the belief of all Muslims that nothing happens without God's permission, even death and "martyrdom."
Saifullah again appears nearly apoplectic: "ok brother, but when u have any source please share because I can't see any link not even to kuffar news!!," and Sheikh_34 responds by posting a link to a CBS News online story.
User "abufarooq" suggests that the entire thread be removed in order to stop continued speculation and controversy, the sowing of "a little dysentery among the ranks," as Christopher Moltisanti one remarked in an episode of HBO's classic series The Sopranos: "i suggest we remove this thread as it is mere speculation. We are all Al-libi, we are all Osama, we are all Zawahri (rahemullah) The idiots dont understand Islam, they think it is like some sort of kaffir [unbeliever] rebellion based on a charismatic leader who when removed it all falls apart. I got news for you retarded kuffar [plural of "kafir"], research the word fesabilillah." He seemingly endorses the argument for a "leaderless jihad," though the commotion caused by this rumor seems to undercut his assertion.
Reiterating the statement that the continued life or death of Abu Yahya is equally good news, user "Al Kahf" writes: " If he is dead, it is good news. If he is alive, it is good news. Walhamdulillaah [and praise be to God]."
Another user, "abulrahman al muhajir," reiterates the previous call to shutter the thread: "my advise is to stop this thread from progressing as it could do damage on the moral of the lovers of the mujahideen...there is no benefit in speaking about something which the kuffar are spreading until we hear something concrete from our mujahideen."
Moderator Asadullah Alshishani replies in the affirmative: " And I am locking this thread for now until we get a statement."
The above discussion, however brief, provides an interesting glimpse into the mindsets of cyber jihadis and particularly the importance, however much some of them may deny it, that charismatic leaders play in the radicalization process. In short, the general Weberian concept of the charismatic religious leader seemingly still applies to these groups. Leaders and ideologues such as Abu Yahya and Anwar al-'Awlaqi (Awlaki), the spiritual "mentor" of the Fort Hood shooter, continue to play an important role in fostering and cultivating radicalism in their followers, whether or not they ever meet them face-to-face. In spending so much energy denying that such leaders are important, cyber jihadis actually strengthen the argument that they really are.