Sana’a: Al Qaida’s No. 2 in Yemen died of wounds sustained in a US drone attack last year in southern Yemen, the country’s official news agency and a security official said on Thursday.
Saeed Al Shehri, a Saudi national who fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, was wounded in a missile attack in the southern city of Sa’ada on November 28, according to Saba news agency. The agency said that he had lapsed into a coma since then. It was not clear when he actually died.
A security official said that the missile that wounded Al Shehri had been fired by a US-operated, unmanned drone aircraft. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
Yemen had previously announced Al Shehri’s death in a September 10 drone attack in the province of Hadramaut. A subsequent DNA test however proved that the body recovered was not that of Al Shehri. On October 22, Al Shehri denied his own death in audio message posted on Jihadi websites.
Also known by the nom de guerre Abu Sufyan Al Azdi, he denounced the Yemeni government at the time for spreading the “rumour about my death ... as though the killing of the mujahideen [holy warriors] by America is a victory to Islam and Muslims.”
Al Shehri went through Saudi Arabia’s famous “rehabilitation” institutes after he returned to his home country, but then he fled to Yemen and became deputy to Nasser Al Wahishi, the leader of the Al Qaida operations there.
Al Shehri’s death is considered a major blow to Al Qaida’s Yemen branch, known as Al Qaida in The Arabian Peninsula. Washington considers it the most dangerous of the group’s offshoots.
Al Qaida in Yemen has been linked to several attempted attacks on US targets, including the foiled Christmas Day 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit and explosives-laden parcels intercepted aboard cargo flights last year.
In 2011, a high-profile US drone strike killed US-born Anwar Al Awlaqi, who had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting US and Western interests, including the attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and the plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010.
Economically struggling Yemen fell into lawlessness during a year-long uprising that started in 2011, when millions of people took to the streets demanding the overthrow of longtime authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Al Qaida militants exploited the unrest and took control of large swathes of land in the south until last spring, when the military, backed by the US, managed to drive hundreds of militants out of major cities and towns.
Since then, Al Qaida has carried out deadly attacks targeting mostly security and military officials, including suicide bombings that targeted military and security compounds.