Said al-Shihri, the Deputy Amir of Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is said to be dead.
A Yemeni Government announcement said that al-Shihri, AQAP's second-in-command, died as a result of wounds sustained during a November counterterrorism operation in the northern governorate of Sa’ada.
Should we believe it this time?
A long-time target of both the Yemeni and US governments, al-Shihri has not been an easy man to kill. Indeed, he has been reported dead several times before. He has sometimes offered on-camera denials of his own death.
“Al-Shihri was a coconspirator in a number of AQAP foreign operations and was possibly involved in the kidnappings and killings of foreigners in Yemen,” a Yemeni government spokesperson for the Supreme National Security Committee told GlobalPost.
Al-Shihri was last said to have been killed in September 2011.
As Sana’a-based journalist Adam Baron noted on Thursday, there were no reports of air or drone strikes in the Sa’ada governorate on Nov. 28 of last year, the day when the Yemeni government claims al-Shihri sustained the injuries to which he reportedly succumbed nearly two months later.
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But this time may be different – reports of al-Shihri’s death may be more accurate than previous rumors and conjectures.
“It looks like he is, but we'll only have 100 confirmation when and if AQAP announces. I'm at about 85 percent right now,” Gregory Johnsen, Yemen scholar and author of “The Last Refuge”, a recent book on Yemen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, told GlobalPost.
Earlier this month, the SITE Intelligence Group reported a prominent Jihadist has indeed confirmed Said al-Shihri had succumbed to wounds suffered in a drone attack last year.
“I send to the Ummah news of the martyrdom of Sheikh Saeed al-Shahri after a long journey in fighting the Zio-Crusader campaign,” said Abdullah bin Muhammad, a prominent figure inside AQAP and the individual tasked with announcing a bounty on US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein.
In several similar cases, most remain skeptical of the claims that members of AQAP’s senior leadership have been killed until a statement of martyrdom is released from organization itself.
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Along with possible AQAP corroboration, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel reported that al-Shihri’s family said the AQAP deputy Amir was severely wounded in a joint US-Yemeni operation in the second week in December.
According to the family, al-Shihri was buried after falling into a coma and declared dead.
A Saudi Citizen, al-Shihri was captured by US forces in Afghanistan in December 2011, just months after leaving his home for Afghanistan. The Bush administration alleged that al-Shihri, a former prisoner at the infamous Guantanamo Bay faciliy, was an “Al Qaeda travel facilitator” who funded potential recruits to travel across the Iran-Afghan border.
In 2007, he was repatriated to Saudi Arabia, where he underwent rehabilitation and reeducation in the Saudi program for former jihadists. In January 2009, shortly after al-Shihri was released from the program, he traveled to Yemen to found AQAP along with Amir Nasser al-Wuhayshi and military commander Qasim al-Raymi.
The death of al-Shihri would be an enormous victory for the US. Clandestine drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen have reached unprecedented numbers in recent months.
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