The al-Qaeda second-in-command in Yemen was killed in an airstrike last month—the third time that it was claimed the commander was killed in three years.
Saeed al Shihri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, died of wounds that he sustained in late November during a security operation in Saada, located in northern Yemen, according to the state-run SABA news agency. He was described as the de facto leader of the faction.
Shihri, who is originally from Saudi Arabia, “has been buried by the al-Qaeda terrorist group in an undisclosed location as a strategy adopted by the group to preserve the morale of its elements,” the news agency said.
Previously, the Yemeni government announced that Shihri was killed in September, but a DNA test found that it was not him who was killed. He later released an audio message that said he was not dead. Also in late December 2009 it was reported that he was killed, but the Yemeni government later said he was captured in January 2010, according to ABC.
There were no photos of his death, but several media companies this week reported that his family also claimed that he died.
Shihri was one of the first inmates at the United States’ prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was brought there in 2002 after he was wounded in Afghanistan. He spent five years in Guantanamo before he was sent to Saudi Arabia to take part in a rehabilitation program that seeks to integrate militants into society, reported The New York Times.
However, Shihri fled to nearby Yemen, where he helped build up al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.
In 2011, tensions in Yemen boiled over and culminated in mass protests that ultimately led to the ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but left a massive security gap. The security vacuum was exploited by al-Qaeda and other militant groups in lawless southern Yemen.
Last year, the U.S. and Yemeni army managed to push out some of the militants from the south, but al-Qaeda’s presence still remains strong in Yemen, which is the Arab world’s poorest nation. The U.S. believes al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula to be the most deadly branch of the global terrorist network.
Yemen state-run media blamed Shihri of leading “terrorist elements” in battles against the military in the southern Abyan province and described him as having a “prominent role in planning for terrorist and sabotage operations at the local, regional and international levels.”
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