A senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader who trained at a camp in Afghanistan more than a decade ago was killed in a recent airstrike in southern Yemen. The airstrike is one of two thought to have been carried out by US-operated unmanned strike aircraft over the past several days.
Mohammed Saeed al Umda (also known as Ghareeb al Taizi) is said to be among three AQAP members believed to have been killed in an April 22 drone strike on a convoy in the Al Samadah area, near the border of Marib and Al Jawf provinces, a senior Yemeni official told The Long War Journal.
US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm or deny the strike, but one intelligence official said that al Umda “has been in our crosshairs.” Airstrikes in Yemen on moving targets such as convoys are typically carried out by the CIA or the US military.
The US officials could not confirm his death. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, have not released a martyrdom statement announcing his death.
The Yemeni official said that al Umda provided “logistical and financial support” and “commanded a number of AQAP military operations in Yemen.” Al Umda has also been featured prominently in AQAP’s propaganda, such as an interview posted on the Ansar al Mujahideen web forum in 2010.
Al Umda attended the Al Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan before the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Al Farouq was one of al Qaeda’s primary training facilities in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Foreign recruits were shuttled to the camp, where they were given training on light arms and other basic instruction. Those who were selected for operations in the West or elsewhere were sent to other specialized training camps. Other recruits were selected to fight alongside the Taliban in al Qaeda’s Arab 055 Brigade.
Al Umda was involved in the October 2002 suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He was convicted by a Yemeni court and imprisoned in 2005. In February 2006, he was among 23 al Qaeda operatives to escape from a prison in Sana’a. The Yemeni official said that al Umda is listed as the fourth-most-wanted man in Yemen.
In a drone strike yesterday in Shabwa province, three AQAP fighters were killed, according to The Associated Press. The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired missiles at a pickup truck traveling in the province. No senior AQAP commanders or operatives were reported to have been killed.
US strikes in Yemen
The US has carried out at least six airstrikes in Yemen this month; the last strike took place on April 16 in Shabwa province. The US launched at least six strikes against AQAP in Yemen in March.
The CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command are known to have carried out at least 29 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009, including the April 22 strike in Al Samadah and the April 23 strike in Shabwa. Other recent airstrikes are believed to have been carried out by the US also, but little evidence has emerged to directly link the attacks to the US. [For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2012.]
Since the beginning of May 2011, the US is known to have carried out 23 airstrikes in Yemen. Twelve of those strikes have taken place so far in 2012. This year, the US appears to be targeting AQAP foot soldiers in an effort to support Yemeni military operations against the terror group. AQAP has taken control of vast areas in southern Yemen and has been expanding operations against the government with raids on military bases in locations previously thought to be outside the terror group’s control.
Only two of this year’s 13 strikes have killed a senior AQAP operative in Yemen. In addition to the strike that appears to have killed al Umda, US drones killed Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani near the city of Lawdar in Abyan province on Jan. 31. Fatahani was involved in the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 US sailors, as well as the bombing that damaged the Limburg oil tanker in 2002. AQAP said that Fatahani had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pace of the US airstrikes has increased as AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia, have taken control of vast areas of southern Yemen. AQAP controls the cities of Zinjibar, Al Koud, Ja’ar, and Shaqra in Abyan province. The terror group also controls Azzan in Shabwa province. AQAP seized control of Rada’a in Baydah province in January but later withdrew after negotiating a peace agreement with the local government.
US intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a direct threat to the homeland. The terror group has plotted multiple attacks against targets in the US. A strike in Yemen last year killed Anwar al Awlaki, the radical, US-born cleric who plotted attacks against the US, and Samir Khan, another American who served as a senior AQAP propagandist.