The US is thought to have launched a Predator airstrike today against a Saudi commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Two “dangerous” terrorists were reported killed in the strike.
The airstrike took place in the Mayfaa district in Shabwah, a mountainous province in central Yemen that is a known safe haven for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The name of the Saudi al Qaeda commander who was targeted was not disclosed. The dead men were identified as two brothers, Musaed and Abdullah al Harad, and described as “mid-level leaders” who are “among the dangerous elements of al Qaeda and involved in several terrorist operations during the past period,” according to the Yemen News Agency (SABA).
The Washington Post identified the two men as Musaed Mubarak Aldaghery and Abdullah Mubarak Aldaghery, and said they were killed when a missile struck their car. “Security authorities were tracking them down for some time,” a Yemeni spokesman told The Washington Post. “They are known operational al Qaeda fighters.”
A security official and a witness confirmed the airstrike, and told AFP that unmanned “drones” were used in the airstrike. The US is the only country known to operate the Predators and Reapers, the armed, unmanned aerial vehicles capable of striking inside countries in the region, such as Yemen. Last fall, the US Joint Special Operations Command deployed unmanned strike aircraft to target al Qaeda operatives in the region.
The US is thought to have carried out at least six air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009 [see list below]. One strike, a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on Dec. 17, 2009, hit what was thought to be a training camp run by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the town of Ma’jalah in the province Abyan. The attack reportedly killed 14 al Qaeda fighters, along with 41 civilians.
Since December 2009, some of the top leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been targeted in airstrikes, including Abu Basir al Wuhayshi, the group’s leader; Said Ali al Shihri, the second in command; Abu Hurayrah Qasim al Raymi, the military commander; Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, the top ideologue; and Anwar al Awlaki, a top recruiter and ideologue.
Yemen has become one of al Qaeda’s most secure bases and a hub for its activities on the Arabian Peninsula and on the Horn of Africa. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula maintains safe havens in various parts of the country and is also known to operate terror camps in Aden, Marib, Abyan, and in the Alehimp and Sanhan regions in Sana’a. The terror group has conducted attacks on oil facilities, tourists, the US embassy in Sana’a, and Yemeni security forces.
Since the onset of large anti-government protests in March 2011, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is known to have openly taken control of areas in Abyan, Shabwah, Hadramawt, Marib, and Lahj.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s base in Yemen serves as a command and control center, a logistics hub, a transit point from Asia and the Peninsula, and a source of weapons and munitions for the al Qaeda-backed Shabaab in Somalia.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has also used its Yemeni base as a hub for attacks against the West. The 2009 Fort Hood shootings and the Christmas Day airline plot, as well as an airline parcel bomb plot in 2010, have all been traced back to Yemen.
“Yemen is Pakistan in the heart of the Arab world,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in 2009. “You have military and government collusion with al Qaeda, peace agreements, budding terror camps, and the export of jihad to neighboring countries.”
Airstrikes in Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula:
• May 5, 2011: Predator strike in Yemen targeted Anwar al Awlaki
• May 25, 2010: Yemeni airstrike kills deputy governor, al Qaeda operatives
• Mar. 14, 2010: Yemeni airstrike hits al Qaeda camp
• Jan. 20, 2010: Airstrikes target home of Yemeni al Qaeda leader
• Jan. 15, 2010: Al Qaeda’s military commander in Yemen reported killed
• Dec. 24, 2009: Yemeni airstrike targets top al Qaeda leaders
• Dec. 17, 2009: US launches cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen
A look at 10 of the most dangerous Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders: