AQAP identifies two Australian fighters killed in drone strike

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has identified two Australian fighters that were reportedly killed by US drone strikes in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt.

The two fighters, Abu Salma al Australi and Abu Suhaib al Australia, were featured in a recent video released by AQAP which depicts two alleged spies confessing their actions to the camera. The two alleged spies reportedly gave information to the US for drone strikes, which led to the deaths of several fighters and a senior leader, Harith al Nadhari. Other members shown were from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and native Yemeni fighters. Nadhari, a senior AQAP ideologue who also a played a larger role in al Qaeda’s global network, was killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen last year. (See LWJ report, Influential AQAP ideologue killed in US drone strike.)

No date was given by the jihadist group for the death of the two Australians, however, the names given matches with the reported names of two Australian citizens killed in a US drone strike on Nov. 19, 2013. The two Australian nationals killed in the airstrike were identified as Christopher Harvard of Townsville, Australia, and Muslim bin John, a New Zealand dual citizen who reportedly changed his name by deed poll either in Australia or New Zealand.

Shortly after the strike, Twitter accounts associated with AQAP eulogized five fighters, named as Abu Habib al Yemeni, a veteran al Qaeda member, Abu Salma al Russi, Abu Suhaib al Australi, Waddah al Hadramawti, and Hammam al Misri. Abu Suhaib al Australi was apparently the alias used by Muslim bin John, and Abu Salma al Russi is believed to be Christopher Harvard’s alias, although he is mistakenly identified as a Russian. (See LWJ report, 2 Australian nationals killed in Yemen in November drone strike.)

A senior counterterrorism source told The Australian that the two Australian nationals were believed to be foot soldiers for AQAP and that they might have been involved in kidnapping Westerners for ransom.

AQAP controls significant ground in Hadramawt Province, including its capital Al Mukallah. In other areas of Yemen, AQAP also controls Zinjibar,  the capital of the Abyan province, and the nearby town of Jaar. The al Qaeda branch seized the town of Azzan in Yemen’s southeastern Shabwa province earlier this year.

AQAP controls other towns and villages in the south as well, while regularly launching operations in other parts of the country. (For more on the populated areas captured by AQAP see LWJ report, Al Qaeda seizes more territory in southern Yemen.)

Two Australian AQAP fighters shown in the video:

Abu Salma al Australi:

Abu Salma

Abu Suhaib al Australi:

Abu Sahib

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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