Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Kenya : Police arrest 8 over Mombasa rampage

Read more

FOCUS

Overfishing and the global appetite for bluefin tuna: can Tokyo turn the tide?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Too many graphic images from Gaza ?

Read more

FASHION

Who's next in Paris, an event with international ready-to-wear and fashion accessories collections

Read more

ENCORE!

Tunisia's Carthage International Festival turns 50

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

Muslims and Christians clean up Bangui, and violence spirals out of control in Algeria's Gardaia

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Is there such thing as 'telegenic' victims of war?

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

2014-07-22 07:21 IN THE FRENCH PRESS

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

Read more

  • French Jews mourn French-Israeli soldier killed in Gaza

    Read more

  • Video: Lebanon fears fallout from regional turmoil

    Read more

  • Australian veteran Rogers claims 16th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

  • Five children among six killed in minibus crash in central France

    Read more

  • Israel identifies ‘missing’ soldier in Gaza

    Read more

  • Hollande says French warship delivery will ‘depend on Russia’s attitude’

    Read more

  • Colombia's Rodriguez signs '€80m' contract with Real Madrid

    Read more

  • Ukraine rebels release bodies, black boxes from flight MH17

    Read more

  • A call for harmony in riot-hit ‘Little Jerusalem’ Paris suburb

    Read more

  • Widodo wins Indonesian presidential election

    Read more

  • An ‘explosion of violence’: French press reacts to Gaza protests

    Read more

  • Notorious ‘VIP’ prison in Paris closed for renovations

    Read more

  • Christians in Iraq's Mosul face execution or exodus

    Read more

  • Scores killed as Libyan militias fight over airport

    Read more

  • Ukraine football players refuse to return home after friendly in France

    Read more

  • China steps up communist education to guard against ‘moral decline’

    Read more

Middle east

Al Qaeda confirms death of deputy chief in Yemen

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-07-17

Saeed al-Shihri, deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP), has been reported dead at least three times in as many years. But on Wednesday, for the first time, AQAP confirmed his killing by a US drone strike.

In the course of an eventful life, Saeed al-Shihri put in time in US and Saudi detention facilities, surreptitiously crossed borders, co-founded al Qaeda’s most dangerous branch, and was reported killed at least three times – only to resurface again, and again.

On Wednesday, in an apparent final death announcement, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed that the group’s deputy leader was killed in a US drone strike.

Shihri’s latest death announcement – the first by al Qaeda’s Yemen-based branch – was posted on jihadist websites commonly used by al Qaeda on Wednesday.

"Sheikh Saeed al-Shihri, aka Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, was killed in a US drone strike," said AQAP's chief theologian – or mufti – Ibrahim al-Rubaish, in the video.

Rubaish provided no details about when Shihri was struck by a US drone.

But he did reveal that AQAP’s No. 2 man was hit by the drone while speaking on his mobile phone in the province of Saadah, north of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. "Lax security measures during his telephone contacts has enabled the enemy to (identify and) kill him," said Rubaish.

While militants are frequently – and erroneously – proclaimed dead by local officials in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, a death announcement by al Qaeda is considered fairly credible in counter-terror circles.

Yemeni authorities had proclaimed Shihri dead in 2009 and 2011, but the reports were denied by AQAP and Shihri subsequently made a number of video appearances on jihadist forums.

In January, Yemeni officials once again announced that Shihri had died from injuries sustained in a US drone attack late last year. This time, AQAP neither confirmed nor denied the report – until Wednesday’s death announcement.

Shihri’s death – which comes as the UN has announced plans to probe the legality of US drone strikes – is a major victory in Washington’s war against al Qaeda’s most high-profile branch.

Wednesday’s death disclosure comes less than two years after one of AQAP’s most flamboyant leaders – US-born Anwar al-Awlaki – was killed in a drone strike in the al-Jawf governorate in northern Yemen in September 2011.

In one of his last videos, which was released on jihadist sites in April, Shihri launched a scathing attack against the Yemeni government for permitting US drone strikes.

He also criticised his homeland, Saudi Arabia, for allowing US bases on “sacred soil” – a longstanding grievance among Saudi jihadists and one that propelled Osama bin Laden to launch al Qaeda’s global operations following the 1990 Gulf War.

Afghanistan to Guantanamo to Saudi ‘deradicalisation’

Born in Saudi Arabia in September 1973, Shihri was in Afghanistan – training at an al Qaeda camp north of Kabul – during the 9/11 attacks. Three months later, he was captured while trying to cross the Afghan border into Pakistan and was sent to the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where he stayed until 2008, when he was repatriated to Saudi custody.

Back home from Guantanamo, Shihri attended a Saudi “deradicalisation programme” aimed at rehabilitating Islamist militants. But somewhat embarrassingly for the Saudis, after completing the programme, Shihri crossed the border into Yemen, where he co-founded AQAP in 2009.

Shihri was one of at least 11 graduates of the Saudi programme to return to terrorist activities, according to US intelligence officials.

In a 2009 interview with a Saudi daily, Shihri’s father blamed his son’s former inmate friends for luring him back to jihadist circles. Rubaish, AQAP’s current chief theologian and the man who announced Shihri’s death on Wednesday, was a fellow Guantanamo inmate who was also repatriated to Saudi Arabia.

The right mix of poverty and Islamic conservatism

The killing of AQAP’s deputy leader is a major boost for Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has seen vast swathes of the country’s territory fall to al Qaeda control following the 2011 uprisings against Yemen’s longtime leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Perched at the entrance to the Red Sea, Yemen is the world’s poorest Arab nation and has the right mix of poverty and Islamic conservatism to make it an ideal al Qaeda recruitment and staging post.

Members of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch are also considered the best indoctrinated and focused among the terror group’s global franchises. Letters and documents retrieved from bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan, house – where he was killed in 2011 – reveal that the late al Qaeda chief was often unable to control the group’s affiliates in Iraq, North Africa and Somalia.

In sharp contrast, AQAP is made up of Saudi loyalists who enjoyed bin Laden’s trust. Over the past few years, the group has launched some of the highest profile terror plots against Western interests, including the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot (also known as the "underwear" plot)  against a Detroit-bound plane, and a 2010 plot to plant bombs in printer cartridges transported by cargo planes.

While militant groups by their very nature are geared to replace leaders lost to violence, the loss of seasoned, well-trained AQAP leaders such as Awlaki and Shihri in recent years has undoubtedly dealt the group a severe blow.

 

Date created : 2013-07-17

  • TERRORISM

    Key figures in al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch

    Read more

  • Yemen

    Al Qaeda’s deputy in Yemen killed in airstrike

    Read more

  • YEMEN

    Can the new leader 'dance on the heads of snakes'?

    Read more

COMMENT(S)