US reportedly kills Ansar al Sharia official in drone strike in Yemen

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The US reportedly killed an Ansar al Sharia official yesterday in a drone strike in an area of eastern Yemen that has been overrun by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Ma’moun Abdulhamid Hatem was allegedly among four jihadists killed in the city of Mukallah in the eastern province of Hadramout.

Hatem’s purported death has not been confirmed by the group.

Hatem’s demise was first announced by jihadists on Twitter. “Urgent – the martyrdom of Ma’mun Hatim an #Ansar_al-Sharia senior official along with three others during the latest airstrike in Al Mukalla #Hadramawt,” one jihadist tweeted yesterday.

Yemeni officials later confirmed the drone strike took place just outside of the presidential palace in Mukallah. The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired several missiles at a vehicle outside of the palace, according to Agence France Presse (AFP). The other three jihadists said to have been killed in the attack were identified as Abu Anwar al Kutheiri, Mohammed Saleh al Gharabi, and Mabkhout Waqash al Sayeri, the Associated Press reported.

Hatem was previously targeted in a strike on March 3, 2014. Three AQAP fighters were killed in that attack, but Hatem survived.

The city of Mukallah was overrun by AQAP’s forces in early April of this year. Ansar al Sharia is AQAP’s political front group.

AQAP has taken advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni government after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels surged throughout much of northern, eastern, and central Yemen, including into the capital of Sana’a and the southeastern port city of Aden. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda takes control of eastern Yemeni city.]

The US has launched seven drone strikes in Yemen since the beginning of 2015. In the strikes launched this year, the US has killed Hatem (assuming reports of his death are accurate) and three other senior AQAP leaders and ideologues: Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, and Nasser bin Ali al Ansi.

The last three strikes have occurred in Hadramout. Hatem, Ansi, and Rubaish were killed in those bombings, indicating that the US has access to solid intelligence on AQAP’s network in the province.

Rubaish, Nadhari and Ansi were all more senior within AQAP’s ranks than Hatem. And Hatem differed from his AQAP colleagues when it came to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. AQAP’s most influential ideologues did not support Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s decision to proclaim himself the caliph. But Hatem initially did.

Hatem was the Islamic State’s most zealous supporter within AQAP. Hatem frequently used his Twitter feed, which has been suspended multiple times, to sing the Islamic State’s praises. Hatem even encouraged Baghdadi to proclaim himself the new caliph before the Islamic State’s caliphate announcement in late June 2014.

But when the Islamic State announced its expansion into several countries, including Yemen, in November 2014, Hatem did not join Baghdadi’s followers. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Islamic State snuff videos help to attract more followers.]

Indeed, Hatem refused to endorse the group of unknown “mujahideen” in Yemen who swore allegiance to Baghdadi on Nov. 10, 2014. In a series of more than 20 tweets published at the time, Hatem admitted that he tried to get AQAP to switch allegiances from al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri to Baghdadi. But Hatem explained that he failed for a number of reasons. And he said that the Islamic State’s growth in Yemen would only exacerbate the many difficulties AQAP faced inside the country. Given that AQAP is hunted by the US while also embroiled in a vicious fight against the Houthis, Hatem argued the Islamic State’s announced expansion was not helpful for the jihadists’ cause.

Hatem explained that he still wants the Islamic State to expand the territory under its control, including to parts of the Arabian Peninsula. But he didn’t want Baghdadi to do so in a way that further divides the jihadists. Hatem said the men loyal to Baghdadi inside Yemen include “students,” but offered few other details.

Hatem played other roles inside Yemen as well. In a video posted on YouTube in October 2014, he rallied his Sunni audience to fight the Houthis. “If we do not suppress them [the Houthis] at the beginning, this will be a problem,” Hatem argued, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

The Islamic State has accused AQAP of being lax in the fight against the Houthis. In reality, the two jihadist organizations have different rules of engagement. AQAP has claimed responsibility for far more attacks on Houthis in the past six months than the Islamic State has. Whereas AQAP attempts to focus its violence on Houthi military and security targets, the Islamic State is more willing to terrorize Houthi civilians. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Why AQAP quickly denied any connection to mosque attacks.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • Devendra Sood says:

    Keep on killing, DRONES. Doesn’t matter it’s Houthis, AQAP or ISIS. They are all cockroaches need to be exterminated for the saftey of human race.

    • Jack Brown says:

      I am unclear why you would say that about the Houthis, or why in the name of heaven you would put them in the same category as Al Qaeda or ISIS….

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    “The last three strikes have occurred in Hadramout. Hatem, Ansi, and Rubaish were killed in those bombings, indicating that the US has access to solid intelligence on AQAP’s network in the province.” This statement would indicate that the US has reestablished its intelligence capabilities, assuming they were ever lost with the overthrow of the Yemeni government as was reported at that time.

    • irebukeu says:

      @Jeff, This might help answer the question.

      From Wikipedia-

      The ARGUS-IS, or the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System, is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project contracted to BAE Systems.

      ARGUS is an advanced camera system that uses hundreds of cellphone cameras in a mosaic to video and auto-track every moving object within a 36 square mile area.

      ARGUS is a form of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance that allows for one camera to provide such detailed video that users can collect “pattern-of-life” data and track individual people inside the footage anywhere within the field of regard. This is accomplished by utilizing air assets (manned aircraft, drones, blimps, aerostats) to persistently loiter and record video of an area 36 square miles in diameter with enough detail to track individual pedestrians, vehicles or other objects of interest as long as the air asset remains circling above. Automated object-tracking software called Persistics from the Lawrence Livermore labs allows users to auto-track every moving object within the field of regard (36 sq miles) and generate geolocation chronographs of each individual vehicle and pedestrian’s movements, making them searchable via geolocation query.

      As ARGUS floats overhead for months at a time, it dragnet tracks every moving person and vehicle and chronographs their movements, allowing forensic investigators to rewind the footage and watch the activities of anyone they select within the footage.

      In early 2014, the ARGUS-IS achieved initial operating capability (IOC) with the U.S. Air Force as part of Gorgon Stare Increment 2, giving the MQ-9 Reaper the ability to survey an area of 100 km2 (39 sq mi).——————-

      End wikipedia quote.

      PBS did a documentary called “Rise of the drones”, where this system is profiled. Id like to add that in the PBS video. It was said and shown that it can see objects as small as 6″ across. Can you imagine what the classified version does and what can be compiled after a year or two? Thats a lot of information to store and sort through. What comes after GIGAbyte?

  • codejnke says:

    It would be interesting to see both organizations fighting each other rather than just disagree. On tactics. If “IS” were to dominate the Jihadist arena, it would not be surprising to see a shift in political structure to “aqap”. How IS sees attacking civilians as productive to their cause is beyond me. AQ learned that attacking civilians was bad for business with Zarqawi in Iraq. Overall With so many groups operating and communicating using widely available technology. Where the hell is NSA? Communication is key. Extremist Twitter feeds are made widely available online if one only looks. I am at a loss why communication between all these groups is not being more carefully exploited. If i were asked what i would want to see, it would be to see AQAP/IS reverting back to hand written notes passed along by donkey ridden by an Ass.

  • James Albright says:

    Does anyone know where the drones are from, since the CIA left the base in Yemen?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis