Security

AQAP confirms al-Rimi's death, appoints successor

By AFP

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Newly appointed AQAP leader Khalid bin Umar al-Batarfi is seen here in a photo posted on social media by the US State Department's Reward for Justice programme. The programme is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Sunday (February 23rd) confirmed the death of its leader, Qassim al-Rimi, and appointed a successor, SITE Intelligence group said.

The announcement came in an audio speech delivered by AQAP "religious official" Hamid bin Hamoud al-Tamimi, said the group, which monitors extremist networks worldwide.

"In his speech, al-Tamimi spoke at length about al-Rimi and his jihadi journey, and stated that Khalid bin Umar al-Batarfi is the new leader of AQAP," it said.

SITE said Batarfi has appeared in many AQAP videos over the past several years and appeared to have been al-Rimi's deputy and group spokesman.

The US State Department's Rewards for Justice programme on February 7th called for information leading to al-Batarfi's arrest, offering a reward of up to $5 million.

It described him as a senior member of AQAP in Hadramaut province and a former member of the group's shura council.

US President Donald Trump announced al-Rimi's death earlier this month, saying he had been killed in a US "counterterrorism operation in Yemen".

Washington considers AQAP, which has thrived in the chaos of years of civil war between the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), to be the worldwide extremist network's most dangerous branch.

"Under al-Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the US and our forces," Trump said at the time.

"His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qaeda movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security."

Weakest in a decade

AQAP has carried out operations against both the Houthis and Yemeni government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad.

But analysts say its abilities on the ground have dwindled, although it still inspires attacks carried out by "lone wolf" extremists or former operatives.

After the years of lethal drone strikes, it is also running out of leadership material with name recognition or charisma, they said.

"AQAP is at its weakest point in a decade, at least in terms of its identity as a coherent group with a primarily religious ideology," said Elisabeth Kendall, a researcher at the University of Oxford.

"Its dream of establishing an Islamic state in Yemen lies in tatters," she said.

"At its peak in 2015-16, it had taken advantage of the country's descent into war to recruit broadly, fill its coffers, and establish a proto-state...

"Today, however, the AQAP core struggles to hold even a small patch of territory," she said in a study published by the Washington Institute.

Kendall said al-Batarfi and other leadership contenders all had "multi-million-dollar bounties on their heads, leaving them with minimal room to manoeuvre, let alone revive AQAP to its heyday".

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