Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed that a senior leader was killed in a recent US drone airstrike in Yemen. The commander had trained in Afghanistan and served as a member of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.
AQAP confirmed that the commander, Mohammed Saeed al Umda (also known as Ghareeb al Taizi), was killed in the April 22 drone strike on a convoy in the Al Samadah area, near the border of Marib and Al Jawf provinces. The terror group announced his death in a martyrdom statement that was released yesterday on jihadist websites. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“‘Ghareeb al Taizi,’ may Allah have mercy on him, … was martyred … with two mujahideen as a result of an American bombing in Samdah district of Marib,” the statement said, according to SITE.
AQAP stated that Umda had served in Afghanistan, where “he was close to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, and was in his special guard.” Bin Laden’s special bodyguard was also known as the Black Guard.
The terror group also said al Umda was on a US wanted list and had been detained by the Saudi government and then transferred to Yemen, where in 2006 he broke out of prison in Sana’a along with 23 AQAP leaders and fighters.
A Yemeni official told The Long War Journal on April 24 that al Umda was killed in an airstrike two days prior. The Yemeni official said that al Umda provided “logistical and financial support” and “commanded a number of AQAP military operations in Yemen.” Al Umda has also been featured prominently in AQAP’s propaganda, such as an interview posted on the Ansar al Mujahideen web forum in 2010.
According to the Yemeni government, al Umda had attended the Al Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan before the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Al Farouq was one of al Qaeda’s primary training facilities in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Foreign recruits were shuttled to the camp, where they were given training on light arms and other basic instruction. Those who were selected for operations in the West or elsewhere were sent on to specialized training camps. Other recruits were selected to fight alongside the Taliban in al Qaeda’s Arab 055 Brigade.
Al Umda was involved in the October 2002 suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He was convicted by a Yemeni court and imprisoned in 2005. In February 2006, he was among 23 al Qaeda operatives to escape from a Political Security Organization prison in Sana’a under suspicious circumstances. The Political Security Organization is known to support al Qaeda. After his escape, Al Umda was listed as the fourth-most-wanted man in Yemen.
The US has carried out 13 drone and conventional airstrikes in Yemen since the beginning of the year. Six of those strikes have taken place this month. From 2002 to the end of 2011, the US carried out just 16 drone and conventional airstrikes in Yemen.
The CIA and the US military have stepped up the targeting of AQAP leaders and fighters as the terror group is believed to be interested in striking inside the US. AQAP has taken control of vast areas in southern Yemen and has been waging an insurgency against the government under the banner of Ansar al Sharia.
For more information on US drone strikes in Yemen, see LWJ reports, AQAP commander thought killed in US drone strike, and Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 – 2012.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.