AQAP propaganda official reportedly killed in US drone strike

Abu Hajar al-Makki, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) propaganda official, was reportedly killed in an American drone strike on Dec. 20. Al Qaeda-affiliated social media sites posted pictures of al-Makki yesterday, confirming independent reports of his death.

One such graphic (seen above) includes four photos of al-Makki, a Saudi who was previously injured and is seen sitting in a wheelchair. Another image disseminated on social media sites (seen at the bottom of this article) sets images of him alongside more well-known al Qaeda figures. In addition, a jihadist biography of al-Makki suggests that he fought in Afghanistan as it references the Khorasan. That same eulogy cites Anwar al-Awlaki, the AQAP propagandist and plotter who was killed in Sept. 2011, and may imply that the two knew each other.

Al-Makki’s death was also reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP), which described him as AQAP’s “propaganda chief.” Citing “tribal sources,” AFP reported that three other AQAP members were killed alongside al-Makki “when a drone blew up their vehicle in the Wadi Obeida district of Marib province.” A second airstrike purportedly targeted another vehicle carrying two AQAP figures.

Although al-Makki’s death has not yet been confirmed by American officials, the US has been targeting AQAP propagandists in recent weeks.

On the same day that al-Makki allegedly met his demise (Dec. 20), US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that “[o]ngoing operations pressuring” AQAP’s “network” had “degraded” its “propaganda production, reducing one of the methods for the terror group to recruit and inspire lone wolf attacks across the globe.” The US has long targeted AQAP’s propagandists in drone strikes, including the jihadists responsible for producing the English-language Inspire magazine.

CENTCOM pointed to the fact that Al-Masra Newsletter, which was “previously published three times a month, has not been published since July.” Al-Masra’s editors have claimed that their Arabic-language publication is “independent,” but FDD’s Long War Journal previously assessed that this is likely not true. Al-Masra has served as a clearinghouse for information on al Qaeda’s global network and contained key insights into the thinking of the group’s senior leadership. Much of Al-Masra’s content has focused on issues far outside of Yemen, including events everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. CENTCOM’s statement confirms that US officials think Al-Masra is in fact an AQAP publication.

In addition, CENTCOM noted that AQAP’s propaganda arm, Al-Malahim Establishment for Media Production, “saw a large drop in October” as a result of the targeted airstrikes. “Unable to produce video series and graphic terror-inspiring magazines, AQAP has resorted to using low-tech audio messages,” CENTCOM claimed.

Interestingly, the US military claimed that while the US and its allies have been disrupting AQAP’s operations, the Islamic State’s Yemeni branch “has doubled in size over the past year.” The US did not explain how the so-called caliphate’s men have been able to expand their operation. It is possible that they have been poaching from AQAP’s ranks, wooing new recruits to their cause, accepting returnees from Iraq and Syria, or some combination of all three. There is some overlap between AQAP and the Islamic State’s networks. Still, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists inside Yemen have been far fewer than AQAP’s members.

The US has bombing the Islamic State’s facilities inside the country, including two training camps in Al Bayda on Oct. 16. American officials estimate that those airstrikes killed more than 50 “combatants.”

“The removal of key facilitators in this region will interrupt AQAP’s freedom of movement and likely force the group into a reactionary posture, limiting their ability to challenge Yemeni Security Forces and partnered advances,” Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a CENTCOM spokesman, said in a statement earlier this week. “US forces also expanded counterterrorism operations in October to encompass both AQAP and ISIS.”

“This parallel targeting effort is required to prevent ISIS-Y [Islamic State in Yemen] from filling the vacuum left by a diminished AQAP footprint or influence in the region,” Lt. Col. Brown said.

Image of Abu Hajar al-Makki alongside well-known al Qaeda figures:

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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