|AQAP operatives Ali Abdullah Naji al Harithi (left) and Ammar Abadah Nasser al Wa’eli (right), who were killed in a US military airstrike on June 3, 2011. Images from Inspire.|
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed that longtime Yemeni jihadists Ali Abdullah Naji al Harithi and Ammar Abadah Nasser al Wa’eli were killed in the June 3 airstrike in the city of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan.
The announcement was made in the latest edition of Inspire, AQAP’s English-language magazine, which is run by Samir Khan, an American citizen. The June 3 airstrike was carried out by the US military.
Harithi’s death was first reported on June 8 by The New York Times. The death of Wa’eli was first reported by Almotamar.net, which claimed he and several other fighters, including Ali Saleh Farhan, were killed during fighting with Yemeni troops in Zinjibar. Inspire also issued a martyrdom statement for Farhan, who was killed while fighting Yemeni forces in Zinjibar.
Harithi, who is described by Inspire as a “veteran lion” and a “commander in the army of Aden-Abyan,” led Yemeni fighters against US forces in Iraq. He entered Iraq in 2003 and fought alongside Abu Musab al Zarqawi. After more than a year of fighting, Harithi and other Yemeni and Saudi fighters left Iraq for Yemen and were arrested by the government. Harithi and 18 members of the so-called Zarqawi cell were put on trial in 2006 for fighting in Iraq but were acquitted as a judge ruled that they did not violate Yemeni or Islamic law.
“This does not violate (Yemeni) law. Islamic sharia law permits jihad against occupiers,” the chief judge said, according to The Washington Post.
At the time of his death, Harithi was described by Yemen’s state-run television as “one of the most dangerous al Qaeda commanders in Shabwa province,” according to CNN.
Wa’eli was a longtime jihadist whose father was linked to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He “started out on the path of jihad very early on in his life,” his martyrdom statement at Inspire said. “His father was a leader of the mujahideen in Yemen who was appointed by Shaykh Usama to open a training camp in the area of Saada.”
Wa’eli’s father likely opened the al Qaeda camp in the Abu Jabara Valley. The Abu Jabara camp is known to churn out fighters who are used to battle the Shia Houthi rebels in the Yemeni north. Hammam Qahtani, a senior Saudi AQAP propagandist who founded the terror group’s media arm and was slain in fighting in Yemen sometime in 2010, trained at this camp.
Wa’eli “spent his early years” at the Abu Jabara camp, then he “traveled to Afghanistan as a young boy and spent years fighting and training with his brothers,” the AQAP statement claimed.
In February 2002, the FBI placed Wa’eli on a list of wanted al Qaeda operatives who were thought to be plotting attacks against US, Western, and Yemeni targets inside Yemen. In January 2010, the Yemeni government claimed that Waeli was among five senior AQAP leaders, including Qasim al Raymi, the terror group’s top military commander, who were killed in an airstrike. But Waeli, Raymi, and the others were not killed in the attack. Waeli was described as “an important arms dealer for al Qaeda,” according to a report in The New York Times.
The US is thought to have carried out at least nine air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009. Three of those strikes have taken place since the beginning of May. The US is said to be taking advantage of the security vacuum in Yemen to step up attacks against AQAP’s top leaders and its network, which have plotted and executed attacks against the West.
For the past several months, Yemeni security forces have been battling AQAP and allied Islamist groups for control of the south. AQAP is known to have openly taken control of areas in Abyan, Shabwah, Hadramawt, Marib, and Lahj since the onset of large anti-government protests in March.
For more information on AQAP and its front group Ansar al Sharia’s war against the Yemeni government, and US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, US airstrike kills 6 al Qaeda fighters in Yemen: report.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.