Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Image from the SITE Intel Group.
Yemeni military officials claimed that Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, was killed during recent fighting in the south. The report has not been confirmed.
Military officials in the 201st Brigade and medical personnel claimed that Wuhayshi’s body was brought to the Basuhaib Military Hospital in Aden on Sunday. The body brought to the hospital “matches the features” of Wuhayshi, according to a report in Aden Online. No photograph has been released of the corpse that is thought to be Wuhayshi, however.
The 201st Brigade has been fighting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula outside Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. Zinjibar and the southern Yemeni cities of Sharqa and Azzan, as well as vast regions in the south, are under the control of AQAP.
Wuhayshi is said to have been killed along with several other AQAP commanders and fighters in the Dawfas (or Dofes) area between the cities of Aden and Zinjibar. Fighting in Dawfas was reported today; four Yemeni soldiers and three “gunmen” were killed during the clash, according to AFP. The gunmen “were brought in by the army” to a military hospital in Aden.
Today’s clash in Dawfas is the second in two days between Yemeni forces and AQAP. On Aug. 27, AQAP fighters killed seven Yemeni soldiers during an ambush in the area.
Wuhayshi has previously been reported dead by Yemeni military officials, only to resurface on AQAP propaganda tapes. In December 2009, the Yemeni military claimed that Wuhayshi, his deputy Said al Shihri, and Anwar al Awlaki, the American cleric who directs attacks against the US, were killed as they gathered for a high-level meeting at Awlaki’s home. All three AQAP leaders re-emerged to deny reports of their death.
Before becoming the head of al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp. He 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.
Wuhayshi was recently heard from, when he released an audiotape on July 26 swearing allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, the new leader of al Qaeda. Wuhayshi pledged that he and the AQAP fighters under his command would follow Zawahiri’s orders and fight “the enemies without leniency or surrender until Islam rules.”
Under Wuhayshi’s orders, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has created Ansar al Sharia, the political front for its operations in Yemen. Ansar al Sharia is analogous to al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq. On Aug. 20, Ansar al Sharia released a videotape of a suicide attack in Aden that killed five Yemeni soldiers.
For more information on Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s rise in southern Yemen, and US counterterrorism efforts, see LWJ report, US ‘drones’ kill 15 al Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.