Senior AQAP leader added to US terror list by State Department

Khalid Batarfi threatened the US and Jews in a video released by AQAP yesterday.

The State Department announced today that Khalid Batarfi, a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, has been added to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists. “This designation seeks to deny Batarfi the resources he needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks,” State said in a press release.

Just yesterday, Batarfi threatened the US and Jews in a video released by AQAP. His threats were pegged to the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Al Qaeda figures around the globe have issued similar calls for violence, as the group often seeks a pretext for its terrorism.

Foggy Bottom says that Batarfi “was the top commander for AQAP in Abyan Governate, Yemen” and “was a former member of AQAP’s shura council,” among other roles.

Batarfi is an al Qaeda veteran who was trained and fought in Afghanistan during the 1990s. FDD’s Long War Journal previously assessed that he is likely part of al Qaeda’s global management team. Other AQAP leaders with similar dossiers have served dual roles as both regional officials in al Qaeda’s network and as members of the organization’s senior management.

Batarfi was imprisoned for several years inside Yemen after he was captured in 2011, but he was freed when AQAP overran the southern port city of Mukallah in Apr. 2015.

Nearly one year later, in Mar. 2016, Batarfi was a prominent speaker at a large, outdoor AQAP rally in Mukallah. The group withdrew from the city weeks later as an Arab-led coalition approached, claiming that it did so to protect residents.

AQAP has regularly featured Batarfi in its propaganda since he was freed from a Yemeni prison in 2015. He has delivered religious lectures, eulogized fallen comrades, commented on current affairs, promoted AQAP’s operations, criticized the Islamic State (including its indiscriminate targeting of mosques inside Yemen), and threatened the West. He has also lent his prominent voice to fundraising campaigns for other al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups, including a small faction that targets Israel.

In July 2016, Batarfi appeared in a video advertising a “special forces” camp. He compared it to the facilities run in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, saying it “is an extension of the training camps of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan since the 1980s.” Batarfi named several training camps in Afghanistan that he thought were comparable.

The Taliban featured Batarfi in a Dec. 2016 video celebrating the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship. A screen shot from the video can be seen above. The inclusion of Batarfi in the production underscored his importance within the jihadist network. Batarfi heaped praise on the Taliban for incubating a new generation of jihadist leadership in Afghanistan. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban rejects peace talks, emphasizes alliance with al Qaeda in new video.]

“Muslim brothers! Our beloved Afghan brothers who greatly supported [the] religion of Allah are indeed an excellent example for you,” Batarfi said. “The entire world saw how Amir-ul-Mumineen [‘Emir of the Faithful’] Mullah Omar, [the] Taliban and all the Afghan people bravely stood and [are] still standing alongside their Mujahid brothers and Arab and non-Arab migrants.”

On top of these jihadi migrants was “our Sheikh and Imam al Mujahid Osama bin Laden (may Allah accept his martyrdom),” Batarfi said, referring to the fact that the Taliban did not break with bin Laden even after the 9/11 hijackings. Batarfi claimed that Afghanistan’s jihadists would “destroy” the US.

“Groups of Afghan Mujahideen have emerged from the land of Afghans that will destroy the biggest idol and head of kufr of our time, America,” Batarfi threatened. The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was sacrificed and even vanished in support of our sacred religion, but they (the Taliban) did not trade off their religion.” Batarfi said that the jihadists can finally “see [the] light of victory,” as governance according to the “rule of Sharia” law is “even stronger in Afghanistan than before.”

In Sept. 2017, Batarfi addressed the crisis in Burma, arguing that the jihadists needed to protect Muslims from their Buddhist murderers. “We call on our Muslim brothers in Burma to prepare their apparatus for jihad, and be ready for it, and we call on our Muslim brothers everywhere and especially in Bangladesh and Malaysia and Indonesia to support their brothers in Burma, and to extend to them all of what they need from equipment and tools,” Batarfi said.

He added that al Qaeda does “not underestimate or forbid the other means and methods of support and help and legal assistance, which our da’wa brothers [proselytizers] and activists interested in the Muslims in Burma issue” had already pursued. However, he called on “the mujahidin everywhere” and “especially our brothers in al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)” to strike back.

Batarfi has addressed various ideological issues in a multi-part AQAP video series entitled, “Stances From the Stories of the Prophets.” In one episode, released in July 2017, he expounded upon the “severity of religious innovation,” focusing on the supposedly “evil practice” of homosexuality. Batarfi warned Muslims that they should not risk the same fate as the people of Sodom.

Batarfi’s religious guidance has been included in Al Masra, an AQAP-produced publication, as well.

Note: FDD’s Long War Journal has written about Batarfi on multiple occasions in the past and much of this profile is drawn from those previous reports.

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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  • Lynn Farley says:

    I’ve never heard of Batarfi being an active fighter in the 1990s. Did Israel put this guy up for the list to be eliminated?

  • chris akerley says:

    this is the oddest terrorist I have seen, and it is a trend. terrorism againt their own homeland and their own religion. the idiosyncrasies blaring and indescrepencies. it is not illegal to threaten ones own, just idiotic. and there is little to no gain for the individual here, his head offered by his own for his actions to them to hault aggression on themselves, the aggressors, who heat up forgien lands to steel.


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