AQAP confirms deputy emir killed in US drone strike


Slain al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula deputy emir Said al Shihri, from his martyrdom video. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has confirmed that Said al Shihri, its deputy leader, has been killed in a US drone strike. Although the Yemeni government had reported six months ago that al Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was killed in a military operation last year, the al Qaeda commander’s status has been unconfirmed until now.

AQAP announced the death of al Shihri in a video that was released on July 16, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the video. “The video’s production date is given as Ramadan 1434, meaning that it was made within the past week,” SITE stated.

The eulogy for al Shihri was given by Ibrahim al Rubaish, a leading ideologue and theologian for AQAP who also is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. Al Rubaish confirmed that al Shihri was indeed killed in a US drone strike.

Al Shihri, whose real name is Abu Sufyan al Azdi, was first reported killed in mid-January by a Yemeni journalist and by jihadists closely tied to AQAP [see Threat Matrix report, AQAP deputy emir Said al Shihri likely killed in US drone strike].

Just days after reports of al Shihri’s death emerged, the Yemeni government issued an official statement confirming his death [see LWJ report, AQAP deputy emir Said al Shihri is dead: Yemeni government]. The US, however, refused to go on the record and officially confirm the death of al Shihri. In April, AQAP released a statement from al Shihri, and referred to him as if he was alive.

Al Shihri is thought to have been wounded in a drone strike in late 2012, and then later died of his wounds. The date of the operation in which al Shihri was wounded is unclear. The Yemeni government claimed he was wounded in an operation on Nov. 28, but family members said he was wounded in mid-December. No drone strikes were reported in Yemen between Nov. 8, 2012 and Dec. 23, 2012.

The US is known to have conducted a strike in Saada on Oct. 28, 2012, however. In that strike, US drones targeted two compounds, killing four AQAP fighters, including two Saudis [see LWJ report, US drones kill 4 AQAP fighters in rare strike in northern Yemen].

Al Shihri’s death highlights the difficulty in confirming reports of the demise of al Qaeda leaders and operatives in drone strikes where no government presence exists. Al Shihri has been falsely reported killed or captured several times in the past. Most recently, on Sept. 10, 2012, the Yemeni military claimed that he was killed in a military operation. Al Shihri released a statement on Oct. 20, 2012 in which he denied the reports of his death. In February 2011, he was rumored to have been killed while working with explosives. In January 2010, Yemeni officials claimed that al Shihri was captured. And in December 2009, al Shihri was said to have been killed by a US cruise missile attack.

Intelligence services often are unable to reach the scene of a strike and recover a body. Without having a body on which forensic tests can be conducted, intelligence services are reliant on tips from family members and jihadists, media reports, and other methods to deduce if an al Qaeda member has been killed or dodged a strike. In the absence of a body, confirmation via a martyrdom statement is one of the best ways to determine if an al Qaeda operative is dead.

Background on Said al Shihri

Shihri is a Saudi citizen who was detained by the US in Afghanistan in 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 for his connections to al Qaeda. He had served as an “al Qaeda travel facilitator” in Mashad, Iran, where he would help al Qaeda operatives enter Afghanistan. He was also connected to the Saudi ‘charity’ al Wafa, which has been designated under Executive Order 13224 as a terrorist organization and is briefly mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s report as an al Qaeda front.

In November 2007, Shihri was released from Guantanamo and placed into Saudi custody, where he then entered a government-run rehabilitation program for former jihadists. Less than a year later, in September 2008, Shihri played a direct role in al Qaeda’s attack on the American embassy in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. That attack killed 10 civilians, along with six terrorists.

In February 2009, when al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda in Yemen merged to form al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Shihri was named as deputy to AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi.

For more information on Said al Shihri, see LWJ report, Return to Jihad.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • Bikebrains says:

    Re: . Once again, explain to me why closing Gitmo is a good idea.

  • Gerald says:

    I read somewhere that he slipped up and used a cell phone. Fatal error on his part. NSA/CIA/USAF collaboration?

  • EDDIED. says:

    Good shot! Keep up the good work and Don’t Stop to rest until every last one of them has ceased to exist and their murdering ways have stopped. Again good shot and keep up the good work. Thank you.

  • mike merlo says:

    Whats with the Hand Positioning? I’m thinking Shot Gun Formation 4th and long and every suicider runs a Deep Route. The Islamic version of The Hail Mary Pass
    “Once again, explain to me why closing Gitmo is a good idea.”
    Better accommodations at The White House?

  • M.H says:

    Good news….Interesting to see AQIP Mufti is the one who released the death of al Shihri….He must be very hurt :)

  • Nolan says:

    what’s your theory on why it sometimes takes so long for the confirmations of leadership fatalities to come out? Also why they would release videos of said person while denying they are dead after the initial reports? My guess is that they have videos waiting in the wings and don’t want them to go to waste while at the same time keeping the foot soldiers of the organization in line and confidant until a proper replacement can be installed. We saw it with Atiyah Abdul Rahman in Pakistan, where a video of him was released shortly after his demise in August of 2011. Now with Said al-Shehri we saw an April 10th release this year showing him and making it seem as if he were alive. AQAP also made several statements denying his death since January. As I said, that’s the best I can come up with: They are trying to limit the potential panic among the ranks when someone like Shehri dies. That or perhaps the videos and online releases are going through so many layers that it actually takes that long to publish. Walid al-Shehri (Abu Khalid al-Shehri) was believed to have been killed in Yemen back in July of 2011 and his death was only just confirmed a few weeks ago by AQAP. Just an example.

  • jim says:

    What is al Shihri doing in that picture? Karate?charades? Telling about how he sunk the game winning shot for his team in the Guantanamo basketball championship game?

  • hibeam says:

    He was delivering puppies to an orphanage when we got him. Over a thousand innocent civilians were also killed in the strike. Maybe 10,000. Hard to say.

  • Nuwan Biyagamage says:

    With Said al Shihri dead who do you think’s going to replace him as deputy emir of AQAP?
    Personally I think there are three possible
    candidates all Saudis mentioned in previous LWJ articles, a) Othman al Ghamdi (ex Gitmo detainee), b) Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri (AQAP bomb maker) or c) Ibrahim Rubaish AQAP’s mufti and another former Gitmo detainee.
    Personally I think Al Ghamdi is the one most likely to fill Al Shihri’s shoes because 1) Has military experience (as a soldier in the Saudi military until 2000 and at Al Qaeda’s Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan) prior to joining it’s Yemeni affiliate. and 2) Since 2010 has been a senior operational commander in AQAP and appeared alongside the late Said Al Shihri in an Inspire magazine in fall 2010.
    IMO it’s unlikely that we’ll see Rubaish or Asiri as the next deputy emir of AQAP due to their importance for the terror groups survival and ability to plot attacks and recruit/provide religious justification for their actions. Also there’s the risk of becoming a prominent high value target once instated as deputy Also the terror network may want to keep these two in their current positions because it allows them to keep a lower (than deputy) profile and focus on their main tasks as mufti and bombmaker respectively. Also because of his military experience Othman Al Ghamdi most likely will be Shihri’s successor because of his battlefield experience.
    What do you think?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Nuwan, My guess is Ghamdi as well, for the reasons you mentioned, and I’d add to that because he is a former Gitmo detainee. The group will want a Saudi in the #2 slot as well.

  • Nuwan says:

    Thanks for sharing you’re view.

  • Doug Ratcliffe says:

    “A government run rehabilitation program for former Jihadists” — when did we start treating jihadism as an illness?
    It’s a lifestyle, a conscious choice not a genetic condition.

  • Buzz says:

    Gitmo is the only place where the jihadist can’t escape 400 to 500 at a time as in afghanistan and iraq. We see what happens just about everytime one of the jihadist is released from Gitmo. The Disposition Matrix and Gitmo is really all we have at this time. The ROE’s are too tough in afghanistan with the present administration and the draw down that is occuring doesn’t leave US with a good hunting season.


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