The Yemeni government has retracted its claim that the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was captured after a car accident in Shabwa province. Now the government is claiming that an al Qaeda operative who was reported killed last fall was instead captured after yesterday’s car accident.
The Yemen Observer reported early yesterday that Said Ali al Shihri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was captured along with another al Qaeda operative after overturning his car at a checkpoint in Shabwa. The Yemeni Interior Minister later released a statement claiming Shihri was indeed in custody.
But today, The Yemen Observer, a pro-government English language news outlet, retracted the report that Said Ali al Shihri was captured and instead claimed Yusuf al Shihri was captured.
But there is a problem with the current report. Yusuf al Shihri was killed last year, along with two other al Qaeda operatives, while attempting to cross the border into Saudi Arabia while carrying weapons and suicide vests. Yusuf al Shihri, like Said, was a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
The retraction of the report of Said Ali al Shihri’s capture and the substituted report of Yusuf’s capture cast further doubt on the veracity of reports by the Yemeni government on its operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Last weekend, the Yemeni government claimed that it killed Qasim al Raymi, the military commander of the terror group, and five other commanders in an airstrike in Al Jawf province. But Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula denied the report, and tribal leaders claimed they saw Raymi eating lunch the next day.
The Yemeni government is seeking to impress US policy makers by claiming success against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s leadership, a senior US intelligence official familiar with the situation in Yemen told The Long War Journal.
“Unfortunately, Yemen appears comfortable in playing the same games with us as the Pakistani government has for years,” the official said. Pakistan has had a terrible track record when claiming senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders killed during US airstrikes or during military raids.
“They [the Yemeni government] dangle reports of senior leaders killed or captured in front of us to show they are doing something in order to get our financial support,” the official said. “It has worked for Pakistan for years, and in fact all we’ve done about it is treble the aid there.”
The Yemeni government, which is known to have worked with al Qaeda in the past and has signed peace agreements with the group, is seeking $4 billion in international aid to assist in the fight against the terror group. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for an urgent international conference on Yemen to take place in London on Jan. 28. Meanwhile, the Yemeni government still allows al Qaeda supporters such as Shiekh Abdulmajid Zindani to operate in the open.