Yemeni airstrike targets top al Qaeda leaders

The leader and the second in command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as a radical, Yemeni-American cleric who is said to have inspired the Ft. Hood massacre, are said to have been killed during an airstrike in Yemen today, according to Yemeni officials. The deaths have not been confirmed by the US.

The Yemeni Air Force targeted Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his deputy Said al Shihri, as they gathered for a high-level meeting of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The terror group’s top leaders were thought to have been gathering at the home of Anwar al Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who provided religious justification for US Army Major Nidal Hasan to carry out a deadly shooting spree against US soldiers in Ft. Hood, Texas.

Wuhayshi and Shihri are said to have held the meeting at Awlaki’s home to plot a response to last week’s controversial cruise missile attack against terror camps in Sana’a and Abyan, Saba News, the official outlet of the Yemeni government, reported. The strike took place in the Al Said district in the Shabwa province. The government claimed that “about 30 al Qaeda suspects from Yemeni and foreign nationalities” were killed.

Wuhayshi is thought to have survived the strike, but the status of Shihri and Awlaki is unknown, according to the Yemen Observer.

US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the status of Wuhayshi, Shihri, or Awlaki, nor would they discuss any US role in today’s strike. The US carried out the Dec. 17 strike using air-launched cruise missiles.

The Yemeni government claimed 34 al Qaeda operatives were killed during the Dec. 17 strikes, including Abu Salih al Kazimi and two wanted Saudis, two Egyptians, and two Chechens. Kazimi commanded a terror training camp in Abyan and was the leader of a cell that killed eight Spanish tourists in Marib in July 2007. Opposition figures in Abyan claimed that 81 civilians were killed and 213 were wounded, all of them civilians. But al Mohammed Saleh al Awlaki, an al Qaeda leader in the region, addressed a crowd in Abyan and said the group’s fight is against the US and that the group not wish to target the Yemeni military.

Wuhayshi is a top al Qaeda commander and a rising star in the organization. Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp and was one of 23 al Qaeda operatives to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. He is considered to be a top contender to take command of the global terror network if al Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan is decapitated, a senior US military intelligence official who closely tracks al Qaeda’s network told The Long War Journal.

Shihri is a Saudi citizen who was detained by the US and transferred to Guantanamo Bay for his connections to al Qaeda. He 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.

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

Awlaki is believed to be the cleric for three of the Sept. 11 hijackers. He fled to Yemen in 2002 after coming under suspicion and is associated with a Yemeni university run by Abdulmajeed al Zindani, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual advisor. Awlaki was in direct email communication with Major Hasan before the latter killed 13 US soldiers and civilians at a staging center for troops deploying overseas. Awlaki recently disclosed his conversations with Hasan to Al Jazeera.

“He was asking about killing American soldiers and officers. [He asked] whether this is a religiously legitimate act or not,” al Awlaki told, according to a report in CBS News.

“The first message was asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army,” Awlaki continued. “In other messages, Nidal was clarifying his position regarding the killing of Israeli civilians. He was in support of this, and in his messages he mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles. Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could transfer some funds to us [and by this] participate in charitable activities.”

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

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  • Some Guy says:

    The man shown in the picture is NOT Said al-Shehri, it is Muhammad al-Awfi, who has been Saudi custody for almost one year!!

  • If the deaths can be confirmed by the United States, then this is a wonderful Christmas present for all of us. To have all of these bums lying around somewhere at room temperature really warms my heart. Hey Virginia, there really is a Santa Clause!

  • AAndrew says:

    Strikes on high level AQ meetings are always welcome news because you can kill many birds with one stone. Hopefully we took out many of the leadership attending the meeting, and certainly the top 2 (and hopefully their planned successors).
    It also wouldn’t hurt if there were some laptops that could be accessed, or a few survivors that were scooped up for intel.
    I’m looking forward to finding out how successful we were once the smoke clears.

  • Render says:

    So it was multiple ALCM’s in our strike? The Big Sticks at work. Nothing else can do that.
    Was Alwaki actually wanted, or just “under suspicion”?
    Can we get reliable DNA – biometrics from the corpses? In either strike?
    If Alwaki is confirmed, there is likely to be a reaction…

  • jayc says:

    Now just wait a minute, Bill. Didn’t Adam Gadahn just say that Muslims don’t target Muslims? Is this to lead us to believe that we are to believe you over the great Al Amriki??? Sorry Anaheim Adam, I don’t believe you.

  • britsarmymom says:

    Lovely. Does this point to pre-meditation on Hasan’s part or is he still going to bid for an insanity plea? Merry Christmas

  • kp says:

    On topic: this is good news. Almost as good as hitting a funeral to get the top guys. I suspect this is the result of 6 months of work.

    And I wonder if post-Nidal Hassan monitoring of Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki has lead to this. It seem that meeting “at his house” is a bit odd. Wikipedia said he’s been “missing” since March 2009.

    BTW, al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico so that would make him a US citizen and the second one killed in the GWOT in Yemen. That’s another interesting consideration for an American weapon controlled by Americans taking him out though as we’ve seen before that is permitted but in that case he was collateral damage not the primary target.,8599,1950024,00.html

    I doubt they used ALCMs though. They’re big. Tomahawks (do they have loiter and retargetting cabability yet?). Or perhaps more likely a US aircraft from a carrier or Diego or Djibouti. Or one or more of the Reapers flying out of Djibouti.

    Pravda is saying it was “Yemeni planes”. Do they have PGMs?

    Off topic: I think Nidal Hassan’s buying a FiftySeven (the highest capacity, low recoil, most leathal handgun — as used by the Secret Service) with a laser sight before the attack rather than using a Glock or a Browning along with only shooting to kill the soldiers not the female police officer who shot him with her colleague seems to be plenty of additional evidence for premeditation and motive.

    Insane people don’t preplan or attempt to flee the scene. After all they haven’t done anything wrong in their mind why would they flee.

  • kp says:

    See also “U.S. Widens Terror War to Yemen, a Qaeda Bastion” for more context.
    Given the recent Yemen strikes, the Somali raid and al-Somalia hit something is clearly working.


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