Since Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011, six potential candidates to lead al Qaeda have been killed in U.S. drone strikes, according an NBC News analysis.
The SEALS grabbed a treasure trove of materials that night -- five computers, 10 hard drives and more than 100 storage devices that held between 10,000 and 15,000 documents and between 15,000 to 25,000 videos, including a large number of duplicate files.
Most of the data was worthless, but a lot of it helped the U.S. identify, characterize and track potential successors to bin Laden, three of whom were killed in the five months after the raid. The fourth -- Abu Yahya al-Libi -- took more than a year to find and kill, but he, say U.S. officials, was the real prize.
Here are thumbnail sketches of those killed:
- Ilyas Kashmiri, 47, an English-speaking Pakistani, killed June 2, 2011, in a Predator attack on a compound in the Ghwakhwa area of South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. Eight other militants also were killed, according to local media. Kashmiri had been associated with a number of attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the 2010 Pune, India, bombing and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Before bin Laden was killed, the al Qaeda leader ordered Kashmiri to plot an attack against President Barack Obama.
- Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, 41, a Libyan, killed Aug. 22, 2011, in the mountains of Pakistan by a drone operated by the CIA. Not long before his death, Atiyah, who had been bin Laden's chief of staff, had been appointed al Qaeda's No. 2, replacing Ayman al Zawahri, who succeeeded bin Laden. After his demise, the New York Times described Atiyah this way: "He was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after bin Laden's death."
- Anwar al-Awlaki, 40, an American, killed Sept. 30, 2011, in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province. Awlaki was killed by two Predator drones, based out of a secret CIA base in Saudi Arabia, that fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle carrying Awlaki and three other suspected al Qaeda members. His was one of the few drone deaths confirmed by U.S. officials, including by President Obama. "The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda's most active operational affiliate," Obama said at the time. "He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans … and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. (The strike) is further proof that al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world."
- Abu Yahya al-Libi, 39, a Libyan, was killed June 4, 2012. U.S. officials confirmed that al-Libi, whose real name is Mohamed Hassan Qaid, was among 15 militants killed when a U.S. drone fired four missiles at a compound in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. A former CIA official described him this way before his death: "He's a warrior. He's a poet. He's a scholar. He's a pundit. He's a military commander. And he's a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within al Qaeda, and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement." Of particular note, al-Libi had escaped a U.S. prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, and went on to produce dozens of recruiting videos.
- Abu Zaid al Kuwaiti, 47, a Kuwaiti whose real name was Sheik Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan, was killed Dec. 7, 2012, by a U.S. drone strike as he ate breakfast in Pakistan, according to an Islamist website said. Al-Kuwaiti was one of the top remaining leaders of al Qaeda and seen as a possible successor to Zawahri. Al Kuwaiti had been seen in numerous al Qaeda videos offering religious training to the group's operatives. The videos were widely circulated by al-Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda wing. He also authored several books of religious thoughts. "He was the last senior al Qaeda leader in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area who was, one, from the Arabian Peninsula and, two, who had serious clerical credentials," said Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News terrorism analyst. "Now there is no obvious publicly recognizable candidate left to succeed Zawahri."
- Saaed al-Sherhri, 40, a Saudi, died Jan. 22, 2013, from wounds suffered in a drone attack the second week of December. He was struck while speaking on his mobile telephone in the province of Saadah, north of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Al-Shehri had survived an earlier drone attack in September 2012, officials said. Al-Shehri had been one of the founders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He also spent six years at Guantanamo Bay detention camp before being released to the Saudi government, which placed him in a rehabilitation program. Weeks after "graduating" from the program, he announced he had founded AQAP.