Nasir al Wuhayshi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s emir and al Qaeda’s general manager, is rumored to have been killed in a US drone strike that took place last week in eastern Yemen. Reports of Wuhayshi’s death, which have been propagated by online jihadists and Yemeni intelligence officials, have not been confirmed by either the United States or AQAP.
The strike, which was carried out by remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, took place on June 9 in Mukallah, the provincial capital of Hadramout. The strike aircraft fired four missiles at a pair of motorcycles, “killing three terrorists including a commander,” a local Yemeni official told Xinhua.
The identities of the commander or the two other purported AQAP fighters were not disclosed by the official. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not release an official statement naming those killed in the attack.
Reports of Wuhayshi’s death emerged today after an individual on Twitter claimed that the AQAP emir died three days ago in Mukallah and the group named military commander Qassem al Rimi as his successor, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.
Without confirmation from AQAP or from US officials, it is difficult to determine if Wuhayshi was killed in the strike.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that they are aware of rumors of Wuhayshi’s death, but could not confirm or deny the reports. The intelligence officials would not say if Wuhayshi was the target of the strike. One said that US intelligence “is always hunting for Wuhayshi.”
Wuhayshi, who has led AQAP since its formation in 2009, has been incorrectly reported killed at least two times in the past four years. Most recently, Yemeni and Saudi officials claimed that Wuhayshi and Ibrahim al Asiri, AQAP’s master bomb maker, were killed in air strikes and a counterterrorism operation in Shabwa province.
In October 2011, AQAP released an official statement denying reports that Wuhayshi was dead. He was rumored to have been killed during fighting between AQAP and the Yemeni military in the city of Zinjibar in Shabwa in August 2011.
US drone strikes in Yemen
The US has launched eight drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. The last four strikes have taken place in Hadramout, the ancestral home of al Qaeda’s founder and former emir Osama bin Laden. The city of Mukallah was overrun by AQAP’s forces in early April of this year after Yemeni forces collapsed due to a Houthi rebellion that has spread from the north to central and southeastern Yemen.
The US has killed three senior AQAP ideologues and religious leaders in the eight strikes so far this year. Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish and Nasser bin Ali al Ansi were killed in airstrikes in Hadramout, while Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari was killed in Shabwa. Additionally, Ma’moun Abdulhamid Hatem, a mid-level Ansar al Sharia leader who was sympathetic to yet critical of the Islamic State, is thought to have been killed in Hadramout, although his death has not been confirmed. Ansar al Sharia is al Qaeda’s political front in Yemen.