AQAP's senior bomb maker Asiri not killed in strike that killed Awlaki


ibrahim-asiri.jpg

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's top bomb maker was not killed in the US airstrike in Yemen that is thought to have killed American citizens and AQAP operatives Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan. But two other AQAP operatives killed in the strike have been identified.

Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri "was not killed nor targeted in this operation," a senior Yemeni official who wishes to remain anonymous told The Long War Journal. Asiri was thought to have been killed, but his death was not confirmed by US officials.

The US added Asiri to the list of designated terrorists in March of this year. Asiri is perhaps best known for assembling the explosive device that was used by his brother in an attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Minister of the Interior. Asiri's brother killed only himself; Saud was lightly wounded. [See LWJ report, US adds AQAP bomb maker to terrorist list, for more information on Asiri.]

Five people, including Awlaki, a senior AQAP propagandist, cleric, and recruiter, and Khan, the editor of Inspire magazine, the terror group's English language magazine, were said to have been killed in the Oct. 1 strike in al Jawf province. [See LWJ report, Yemen claims AQAP cleric Anwar al Awlaki 'killed' in airstrike].

Two of the other operatives killed have been identified as Abdul Rahman bin Arfaj and Mohammed Salem al Na'aj, the Yemeni official said.

Arfaj was the "brother of the owner of the house that Awlaki left before the air strike," the official said. The brother who owns the house is named Khames bin Arfaj, and was "a member of Islah who was the party nominee for the 2003 Parliamentary elections."

The Islah Party is the main opposition party in Yemen. One of its most prominent wings consists of Salafists who are led by Abdul Majeed al Zindani, who has been described by the US government as Osama bin Laden's mentor. Zindani is on the US's list of specially designated global terrorists. The Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood also is a major faction in Islah. The Yemeni government has accused elements of Islah of teaming up with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to conduct attacks against military forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Na'aj, the other fighter killed in the strike, was a member of the Obaidah tribe in Marib province, the Yemeni official said.

US and Yemeni officials are confident that Awlaki was killed in the Oct. 1 strike, which was carried out by a unit comprised of CIA operatives and Joint Special Operations Forces troops operating Predator and Reaper drones from bases in the region. The Yemeni official said his government is certain that Khan was also killed. AQAP has not released a statement announcing the martyrdom of either Awlaki or Khan.



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READER COMMENTS: "AQAP's senior bomb maker Asiri not killed in strike that killed Awlaki "

Posted by Shocked at October 3, 2011 4:23 AM ET:

"The brother who owns the house is named Khames bin Arfaj, and was "a member of Islah who was the party nominee for the 2003 Parliamentary elections."

The Islah Party is the main opposition party in Yemen. One of its most prominent wings consists of Salafists who are led by Abdul Majeed al Zindani"

Did I really just read that??!!!

Is this how bad things are in Yemen politically, that a guy like Awlaki can spend a few nights in the home of a prominent parliamentary leader??!!

Posted by Eddie D. at October 3, 2011 10:10 AM ET:

Good work now on to the others.

Posted by ArneFufkin at October 3, 2011 3:41 PM ET:

It appears that the CIA/GIP/Yemenis have inserted some operatives within that deadly AQAP network.

Posted by Michael Saint at October 4, 2011 10:22 AM ET:

So, a massive intelligence effort, foreign policy, naval assets, and predators, and so much more, have focused for years now, on one man's propaganda. The value of ideas must truly be important to the defense of the United States. I hope we are all prepared to continue to chase these ideas with fervent military power, because Awlaki's was cheap by comparison. The funny thing is, that from beginning to end, Awlaki's lack of interactivity, and isolation, made this "ghost" of a terrorist, a shining example of just how vulnerable Western society PERCEIVES ITSELF to be. Perhaps it's time to focus more on our strengths, our opportunities, the good we bring to other societies, and stop over-reacting to imagined threats. Sometimes, paying attention to the mis-behaving child, reinforces the behavior. Sure, better security in civil life is necessary..in fact it probably is necessary even without Islamic terrorism. I think every building should have low-dose, high detail scanners, and very very polite security personnel who are respectful and powerful. Nothing wrong with that! But mobilize a military for one man? The strength of our ideas in regard to freedom and equal opportunity are enough to simply brush aside radical Islam. If you need to make a statement in a 3rd world country, please launch an aging ICBM and flatten a mountain. I guarantee the AK-47 toting goat herders will behave themselves for at least a decade after that. But no more dead 20 year olds, not for Anwar, Osama, or Mohammad. They just aren't worth it.

Posted by TarantinoDork at October 4, 2011 10:40 AM ET:

Take with a major grain of salt any Yemeni government assertion that prominent members of the political opposition were sheltering the most infamous terrorist in the country. Like all the MidEast dictators, Saleh is intent on leveraging fear of Al Qaeda into continued support from both East (Russia, China) and West (US, Europe, Israel.)

But I don't rule it out either.

To me the big story about the Awlaki strike is that finally we're getting quality intel and situational awareness in Yemen. The airstrikes of the last two years haven't shown remotely the same precision as seen in Pakistan, and thats because we didn't have the same kind of intelligence presence.

Expect more effective strikes in the weeks, months to come.

Posted by Gandalftb at October 10, 2011 11:06 AM ET:

After leaving the US, Awlaki lived in Shabwa, S Yemen. After he became wanted, he moved to Sana’a, living with an official of the GPC ruling party for five months.

Three days before Saleh was allowed to return to Sana’a, Yemen, Awlaki decided to move. Coincidence?

Awlaki wanted to go to Shibuya and the protection of Al Faqih Ali and his AQ cohorts. However, Saleh's National Security Agency convinced him to first go to the Al-Jawf province where he stayed at three places:

The house of Salem Saleh Afrag, the driver killed with him, the farm of local tribal leader Amin Al-Okaimi in Al-Jar (Al-Okaimi is a member of parliament and chairman of Islah), and finally the farm of the Islamist leader Abdel-Majid Al-Zandani, in Nebta, Al-Jawf.

There were three moving vehicles in the convoy, only the middle vehicle was hit with two Hellfire missiles. Likely a GPS transmitter had been placed on Awlaki's vehicle.