A photograph of Nasir al Wuhayshi, which was released by AQAP and accompanied the Madad report denying his death. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has officially denied rumors that their emir, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was killed during fighting in southern Yemen last summer.
The denial was published in “the first issue of what appears to be a periodical covering the activities of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” by the Madad News Agency, which the SITE Intelligence Group described as “a new jihadist group reporting from Yemen.” The periodical was released on Oct. 25 on jihadist web forums, and translated by SITE.
The Madad News Agency said that “one of the commanders of Qaedat al-Jihad Organization in the Arabian Peninsula denied what some newspapers published regarding the killing of the organization’s emir, Abu Basir Nasir al Wuhayshi, in air raids by the American planes, according to what these newspapers had reported.”
“The commander added that the organization’s emir wasn’t exposed to any bombing and he is very well,” Madad continued.
The Madad report also included a previously unseen photograph of Wuhayshi. It is not clear when the photograph was taken.
Wuhayshi was rumored to have been killed during fighting in late August with the 201st Brigade of the Yemeni Army in the Dofas area just outside of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan [see LWJ report, AQAP chief Nasir al Wuhayshi reported killed in southern Yemen]. AQAP describes Dofas as a major battlefront in its war against the Yemeni state. Zinjibar and the southern Yemeni cities of Sharqa and Azzan, as well as vast regions in the south, are under the control of AQAP.
Yesterday’s denial of Wuhayshi’s death is the second by AQAP in two months. Fahd al Quso, a senior AQAP military commander, also denied Wuhayshi was killed, during an interview with Al Quds Al Arabi reporter and AQAP sympathizer Abdul Razzaq al Jamal. The interview was published in September.
“We are used to such kind of false news by many of the media outlets,” Quso said, according to a translation of the article by the SITE Intelligence Group. “I myself was killed more than once and then Allah resurrecting me. Emir Nasir al Wuhayshi is well and there is no truth to any of this news.”
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. Awlaki and fellow American jihadist Samir Khan were later killed in a US Predator airstrike on Sept. 30, 2011.
Background on Wuhayshi
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.