This undated frame grab from video shows Saeed Al Shehri, deputy leader of Al Qaida. Image Credit: AP

Sana’a: Yemeni troops killed the second-in-command of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the terror network’s deadliest branch, in a raid in the east, the Defence Ministry news website said on Monday.

“The Saudi terrorist Saeed Al Shehri, the second man in Al Qaida, was killed in a quality operation by the armed forces in Hadramaut,” the 26sep.net news website reported.

“Six other terrorist elements accompanying him were also killed,” the website added quoting what it said was a “high-ranking source”, without mentioning when the operation took place.

“[Al] Shehri’s death deals a painful blow to what’s left of the terrorist elements.”

A tribal source told AFP that a ground operation had taken place in the province of Hadramaut, where the family of Al Qaida’s slain founder Osama Bin Laden had its roots. AFP however could not independently confirm the militant’s death.

Al Shehri escaped death on September 20 last year when US drones carried out several air strikes on the village of Al Mahfad in Abyan province in the south. He was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and was flown to Saudi Arabia where he was put through a rehabilitation programme.

But after completing the programme, Al Shehri disappeared and later resurfaced as the second-ranked AQAP commander, which has been repeatedly described by US officials as the most dangerous of the jihadist network’s worldwide affiliates.

Al Qaida’s Saudi and Yemeni branches had merged to form the Yemen-based AQAP, announced in January 2009.

AQAP has been linked to the 2009 Christmas plot in which a bomb hidden in a Nigerian attacker’s underpants failed to detonate on a plane bound for Detroit. It is also suspected of having a hand in a 2010 attempt to blow up cargo planes heading to the United States with explosives concealed in printer cartridges.

In October 2000, an Al Qaida suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden killed 17 US service members. Fahd Al Quso who was wanted in connection with the bombing was killed in a US drone strike in May.

In 2011, AQAP took advantage of the weakness of the central government in Sana’a during protests against ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh to expand its presence in the impoverished country.

It took over a string of towns across the south and southeast, mainly in Abyan.

But in May, the army launched an all-out offensive, forcing Al Qaida to withdraw from towns in Abyan as suspected US drone attacks in southern Yemen have targeted Al Qaida insurgents.

Saleh’s successor President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has pledged to crush the militants since he came to power in February.