Wanted AQAP bomb maker rumored killed in US drone strike

Ibrahim al Asiri, al Qaeda’s top bomb maker and a senior leader in its branch in Yemen, is rumored to have been killed in a US drone strike sometime in the past year. The death of Asiri, one of the most dangerous and wanted men in the world, has yet to be confirmed. If he is confirmed to have been killed, his death will likely have minimal impact on AQAP as he has shared his expertise for well over a decade.

An unnamed Yemeni security official, as well as a tribal leader and “an al-Qaida-linked source”, told The Associate Press that Asiri and four of his followers were killed in a drone strike as they stood outside of his vehicle in the central Yemeni province of Marib.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, have not officially confirmed Asiri’s death. US Central Command, which targets AQAP and other terrorist groups in counterterrorism strikes, has not commented about the status of Asiri.

Asiri has been targeted several times in the past, and has been reported dead, only to resurface to continue training future bomb makers for AQAP as well as other al Qaeda branches. Assessing the status of targeted jihadist leaders and opertives is a difficult task, as they often are operating in areas outside of local government’s control. Without physical evidence, such as a body, or a martyrdom statement issued by the jihadist group, it is impossible to know if the target of the strike is dead or alive.

In April 2014, Asiri was targeted in Shabwa province, a known AQAP bastion. The bodies of those killed in the strike were analyzed by the Saudi government, and it was determined that he was not killed.

In Aug. 2013, it was reported that Asiri was wounded in a US drone strike in the province of Lahj. However, the Yemeni government later denied that he was wounded.

Asiri was also rumored to have perished in the Sept. 2011 strike that killed radical American cleric and senior AQAP leader Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan, an American AQAP propagandist and the editor of Inspire. US officials later confirmed that Asiri was alive.

Most wanted

When Asiri was listed by the US State Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2009, State described him as the “primary bomb maker” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US Rewards for Justice program currently offers a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and prosecution.

Considered to be al Qaeda’s most innovative bomb maker, Asiri has boasted that he has trained others to manufacture explosive devices for AQAP. He is thought to have trained a cadre of al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iran, Pakistan, and Yemen, as well as from North Africa, to build and deploy bombs in Syria. He is also thought to have trained Anders Cameroon Ostensvig Dale, a Norwegian who converted to Islam and quickly joined AQAP in Yemen.

Asiri is known for building the so-called underwear bomb that was used in the failed Christmas bombing over Detroit in 2009 and for designing explosive devices that are disguised as items such as printers. These devices were to be detonated in cargo planes over the US.

Prior to joining AQAP’s operations in Yemen, Asiri was a member of an “al Qaeda affiliated terrorist cell” that plotted to attack oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. He is is currently wanted by the Saudi government for his role in the attempted assassination of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the Deputy Minister of the Interior. Asiri designed and assembled the bomb used by his brother, Abdullah Hassan al Asiri, in the Feb. 3, 2009 assassination attempt.

Abdullah lured the Saudi prince to a meeting by claiming he wished to surrender under an amnesty program and reconcile with the government. But instead, Abdullah detonated a bomb that was hidden in his anal cavity. The blast killed only Abdullah; Prince Saud was lightly wounded in the attack.

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

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