US offers reward for information on 2 senior AQAP leaders

The State Department announced today that it is offering rewards of $5 and $10 million for information concerning two Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leaders. Both jihadists attended al Qaeda training camps in pre-9/11 Afghanistan before relocating to Yemen, where they eventually assumed leadership positions. They are openly loyal to al Qaeda’s overall emir, Ayman al Zawahiri.

Qasim al-Raymi (or al-Rimi) was named AQAP’s emir in June 2015 after his predecessor, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was killed in an American drone strike. Raymi quickly reaffirmed his allegiance to the “beloved father,” Zawahiri, after assuming AQAP’s top spot.

State offers a short biography for Raymi, noting that he “trained terrorists at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s.” He did so at a young age, as he was born on June 5, 1978, making him forty years old today. This means he was only in his twenties when al Qaeda first promoted him to the role of trainer.

Intelligence cited in leaked threat assessments authored by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) indicates that Raymi served as a trainer at al Qaeda’s Al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan. Al-Raymi’s younger brother, Ali, was held at Guantanamo. During a tribunal hearing, Ali blamed his more infamous brother and father for forcing him to train at Al Farouq. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Guantanamo detainee is brother of AQAP’s new top leader.]

After returning to Yemen, Raymi became active in al Qaeda’s terrorist plotting. He “was sentenced to five years in prison in 2005” for “plotting to assassinate the US Ambassador to Yemen.” However, Raymi and other al Qaeda veterans escaped prison in 2006. They then relaunched AQAP in early 2009. Raymi previously served as AQAP’s “military commander” and ran a training camp in Abyan.

Foggy Bottom implicates Raymi in al Qaeda’s anti-American terrorist plots, saying he was “linked” to both the Sept. 2008 attack on the US Embassy in Sana’a and AQAP’s Dec. 2009 plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. The latter plot was carried out by Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, a recruit who had lived in the UK. AQAP’s explosives experts strapped an “underwear bomb” to Abdulmutallab that failed to detonate. Although the US connects Raymi to these operations, State doesn’t explain his precise role.

Regardless, Raymi has threatened the US on multiple occasions. In a May 2017 video, he called for “easy and simple” attacks in the West. He also praised the operations of Islamic State sympathizers, including Omar Mateen, who attacked an Orlando, Florida nightclub in June 2016. State cites Raymi’s threats on its Rewards for Information page. [For more, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: AQAP leader calls for ‘simple’ attacks in the West.]

AQAP’s emir was first designated as a terrorist by the US government in May 2010 and a reward offer of $5 million was issued in Oct. 2014. That reward has now been increased to $10 million.

The second AQAP leader targeted by the Rewards for Justice program today is Khalid Saeed al-Batarfi. Like Raymi, Batarfi is a veteran of Al Farouq, where he was trained after traveling to Afghanistan in 1999. Batarfi “fought alongside the Taliban against US forces and the Northern Alliance” in 2001, State notes.

Batarfi has continued to serve as a Taliban booster in the years since — a role that the Taliban has appreciated.

In Dec. 2016, the Taliban featured Batarfi in a video celebrating its alliance with al Qaeda. Batarfi praised the Taliban’s men for standing up to the US “alongside their Mujahid brothers and Arab and non-Arab migrants.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Taliban rejects peace talks, emphasizes alliance with al Qaeda in new video.]

Batarfi joined AQAP in 2010, according to State, and became a “senior member” of the organization in Hadramaut. He also “led AQAP fighters in taking over Yemen’s Abyan Province, and was named AQAP’s emir of Abyan.”

State describes Batarfi as a “former member of AQAP’s shura council.” It is not clear why Batarfi isn’t currently a member of AQAP’s shura, or elite advisory council, but he remains a key figure within the group’s hierarchy.

In June 2015, Batarfi publicly confirmed the death of AQAP’s first emir, Nasir al-Wuhayshi. During his eulogy, as State notes, Batarfi threatened the US and its economy. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: AQAP confirms death of senior leader.]

Batarfi was imprisoned in Yemen, but he was freed in 2015 during AQAP’s takeover of Mukallah. He has played a prominent role in AQAP’s propaganda since then. In a Jan. 2018 video, as State notes, Batarfi blasted the Trump administration’s decision to “recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The UN has warned that Batarfi is involved in planning “external attacks,” including a plot in Jordan that was disrupted in 2017.

The US previously offered rewards for information on other AQAP leaders, including Ibrahim al-Banna, who is also an al Qaeda veteran.

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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