Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s top bomb maker was not killed in the US airstrike in Yemen that is thought to have killed American citizens and AQAP operatives Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan. But two other AQAP operatives killed in the strike have been identified.
Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri “was not killed nor targeted in this operation,” a senior Yemeni official who wishes to remain anonymous told The Long War Journal. Asiri was thought to have been killed, but his death was not confirmed by US officials.
The US added Asiri to the list of designated terrorists in March of this year. Asiri is perhaps best known for assembling the explosive device that was used by his brother in an attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of the Interior. Asiri’s brother killed only himself; Saud was lightly wounded. [See LWJ report, US adds AQAP bomb maker to terrorist list, for more information on Asiri.]
Five people, including Awlaki, a senior AQAP propagandist, cleric, and recruiter, and Khan, the editor of Inspire magazine, the terror group’s English language magazine, were said to have been killed in the Oct. 1 strike in al Jawf province. [See LWJ report, Yemen claims AQAP cleric Anwar al Awlaki ‘killed’ in airstrike].
Two of the other operatives killed have been identified as Abdul Rahman bin Arfaj and Mohammed Salem al Na’aj, the Yemeni official said.
Arfaj was the “brother of the owner of the house that Awlaki left before the air strike,” the official said. The brother who owns the house is named Khames bin Arfaj, and was “a member of Islah who was the party nominee for the 2003 Parliamentary elections.”
The Islah Party is the main opposition party in Yemen. One of its most prominent wings consists of Salafists who are led by Abdul Majeed al Zindani, who has been described by the US government as Osama bin Laden’s mentor. Zindani is on the US’s list of specially designated global terrorists. The Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood also is a major faction in Islah. The Yemeni government has accused elements of Islah of teaming up with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to conduct attacks against military forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Na’aj, the other fighter killed in the strike, was a member of the Obaidah tribe in Marib province, the Yemeni official said.
US and Yemeni officials are confident that Awlaki was killed in the Oct. 1 strike, which was carried out by a unit comprised of CIA operatives and Joint Special Operations Forces troops operating Predator and Reaper drones from bases in the region. The Yemeni official said his government is certain that Khan was also killed. AQAP has not released a statement announcing the martyrdom of either Awlaki or Khan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.