U.S. officials say that Atiyah al-Rahman, al-Qaida's second-in-command, was killed last week in Waziristan, Pakistan, in a series of CIA drone strikes.
Officials thought they had killed al-Rahman in a drone strike last year, only to have him reappear months later. But as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, this time officials seem convinced they got their man.
Al-Rahman is more than just al-Qaida's No. 2, he was Osama bin Laden's liaison to other al-Qaida leaders and the group's affiliates. He was also in charge of getting bin Laden's audio tapes and videos out to media outlets.
He took on the No. 2 job just months ago, after Ayman al-Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as the leader of al-Qaida's core operation.
A Libyan national, al-Rahman never had the worldwide name recognition of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. But al-Rahman was regarded as an instrumental figure in the terrorist organization, trusted by bin Laden to oversee al-Qaida's daily operations.
When the SEALs raided bin Laden's compound, they found evidence of al-Rahman's deep involvement in running al-Qaida. Since the raid, the Obama administration has been unusually frank in its assessment that al-Qaida is on the ropes, its leadership in disarray. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that al-Qaida's defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks.
"Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them," Panetta said, "because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a major threat."
If al-Rahman is dead, officials say it is another terrible blow to al-Qaida.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.