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Al-Qaeda in Yemen says leader killed in drone strike

AFP , Tuesday 16 Jun 2015
A guard walks past cars damaged by Saudi-led air strikes that hit the adjacent house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, in Sanaa, Yemen June 15, 2015(Photo: Reuters)
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Al-Qaeda in Yemen said its leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, number two in the global jihadist organisation, was killed in a US drone strike, and named its military chief as his successor.

Washington has not yet commented on the death of Wuhayshi, whose group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has been behind several plots against the United States, including an attempt to blow up a US commercial airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

Wuhayshi "was killed in a US drone attack that targeted him along with two other mujahedeen," who were also killed, said a video statement posted by Al-Qaeda's Al-Malahem media arm and dated June 15.

Al-Qaeda commanders have met and chosen AQAP military chief Qassem al-Rimi as their new leader, according to the statement read by prominent Al-Qaeda militant Khaled Omar Batarfi.

US officials told the Washington Post they were reviewing intelligence linked to a June 9 drone strike that targeted Wuhayshi.

"We are looking to confirm his death," a US intelligence official told the newspaper.

The United States considers AQAP to be Al-Qaeda's most dangerous branch and has carried out repeated drone strikes against its leaders.

The group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January in which 12 people were killed.

A local Yemeni official told AFP earlier Tuesday that Wuhayshi was believed to have been killed in the raid on the Al-Qaeda-held southeastern port city of Mukalla.

"There are currently four bodies belonging to Al-Qaeda members," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"The hospital remains tightlipped about the identities, but there is information from within the hospital that the body of Wuhayshi is in the morgue."

Another Yemeni official told AFP last week that a drone had fired four missiles at three Al-Qaeda militants near Mukalla port, killing them on the spot.

The US government had offered a $10 million reward for any information leading to the capture or killing of Wuhayshi.

A former aide to Al-Qaeda's slain leader Osama bin Laden, Wuhayshi attended the group's Al-Farouk training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

He is said to have fled Afghanistan in 2002 to Iran, where he was arrested and handed over to Yemen. There he was held without charge until he escaped by tunnelling his way out with 22 other prisoners in February 2006.

He was named head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2007.

When Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in Pakistan in May 2011, Wuhayshi warned Washington not to fool itself that it spelled Al-Qaeda's demise.

"What is coming is greater and worse, and what is awaiting you is more intense and harmful," he said.

AQAP has exploited months of fighting between loyalists of Yemen's exiled government and Iran-backed rebels to consolidate their grip on Hadramawt province and its capital Mukalla -- a city of more than 200,000.

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