Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen targeted in US airstrike

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Yemenis gather around a burnt car after it was targeted by a drone strike killing three suspected al-Qaeda militants on January 26th, 2015 between the Marib and Shabwa provinces, a desert area east of Sanaa. [Stringer/AFP]

A US airstrike in January may have killed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Qassim al-Rimi in Yemen, according to media reports.

If confirmed, his death could deal a severe blow to al-Qaeda, whose Yemen affiliate remains one of its most potent branches, Yemeni analysts told Al-Mashareq.

AQAP has tried to attack the US and Europe and is thought to still want to.

Local and US media reported on Friday (January 31st) that al-Rimi was killed in a US drone strike on Wadi Ubaidah district in the province of Marib.

The US was awaiting final confirmation of his killing before making an official announcement.

Al-Rimi, 41, assumed the command of AQAP in June 2015, following the death of Nasser al-Wuhayshi in an airstrike in Hadramaut.

A veteran of al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, al-Rimi later returned to Yemen, where he was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting to kill the American ambassador there.

He broke out of jail a year later, and has since been linked to a number of attacks both inside and outside Yemen.

He was involved in the attack that targeted a group of Spanish tourists in Marib in 2007, killing eight, political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

He was also linked to the failed suicide attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab aboard a US-bound passenger jet in December 2009, he said.

In 2009, the Yemeni government accused him of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen's Abyan province.

The US government had offered up to a $10 million reward for information on al-Rimi.

A blow to al-Qaeda

The death of al-Rimi, if confirmed, would be a severe blow to al-Qaeda "because he was one of the fighters who fought in Afghanistan and trained under late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden", Ahmed said.

"AQAP has been in decline since 2011 as a result of US strikes and crackdowns by the international counter-terrorism coalition, the Arab aoalition and the Yemeni army," he said.

Al-Rimi's death would also represent a blow to the group's recruitment efforts, as he was in charge of recruiting youth to its ranks and managed training camps in southern Yemen, he said.

"The blow dealt to al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts is compounded by the fact that al-Rimi was the link between the group's founding generation and the new generation of fighters who did not fight in Afghanistan," he added.

His killing presages bad news for AQAP, especially as it is fighting with ISIS over influence and recruits in Yemen, he said.

Meanwhile, political analyst Adnan al-Humairi said he does not expect al-Rimi's killing to have a major impact on al-Qaeda, "given that for more than 10 years, al-Qaeda has been adopting a decentralised and cluster command structure".

Under that structure, al-Qaeda elements do not receive their orders straight from the group's leadership anymore, but rather from field commanders, al-Humairi explained.

"His death will have a greater impact on the regional level than on the local level," he said, warning that a prolonged war in Yemen will only serve extremist groups.

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