Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed in a statement released through its media arm, Al-Malahem, that leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi was killed in an American airstrike in Yemen.
“We in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula mourn to our Muslim nation … that Abu Baseer Nasser bin Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi, God rest his soul, passed away in an American strike which targeted him along with two of his mujahideen brothers, may God rest their souls,” Khaled Batarfi, a senior member of the group, read in the group’s nearly 10-minute statement.
“Let it be known to the enemies of God that their battle is not only with one person or figure, no matter how important,” Batarfi stressed. “To the infidel America: God has kept alive those who will trouble your life and make you taste the bitterness of defeat.”
AQAP’s commander of military operations, Qassim al-Raimi, has moved into the top spot.
It’s unclear if al-Raimi will assume the same leadership role in al-Qaeda that Wuhayshi filled.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had to fill his old position as No. 2 in the organization after Abu Yahya Al Libi was killed in a 2012 drone strike. His choice? The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The hire reportedly took place in summer 2013, around the time when Obama talked about a defeated core al-Qaeda.
Al-Wuhayshi, 38, didn’t clear 5 feet in height. But he had jihad in his blood: the Yemeni attended religious schools, went to Afghanistan, became bin Laden’s personal secretary, oversaw al-Qaeda training camps, and hid in the caves of Tora Bora with his boss. When bin Laden went into hiding in the Abbottabad compound, Wuhayshi was one of the few to know his whereabouts.
He was held by the Yemenis for a few years before a prison escape, started a Yemen chapter of al-Qaeda, then announced the launch of AQAP to merge with Saudi extremist groups in a 2009 press conference.
Despite Obama’s drone strikes on Yemeni targets, AQAP flourished under Wuhayshi’s leadership and looked for new ways to attack, including the underwear bomb aboard a 2009 Detroit-bound flight that made it past security. AQAP is also behind the slick English-language magazine Inspire, which encourages “open-source jihad” following the tutelage of al-Qaeda’s long-distance teachings. It was from this magazine that the Boston Marathon bombers found their deadly explosives recipes. Wuhayshi deemed Western jihadists to be even more valuable than Middle Eastern ones because of their proximity to the “enemy.”
“Wherever there are mujaheddin, there is danger awaiting the disbelievers,” Wuhayshi said in 2010. “The mujaheddin are one body and if one of them is somewhere you would find fear and terror spreading in that place.”
Days before Obama’s declaration of a defeated al-Qaeda core to Camp Pendleton Marines in August 2013, Wuhayshi and Zawahiri jumped on a conference call with more than 20 leaders of affiliates including Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and new affiliates including al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.
Wuhayshi’s title was general manager for international operations, giving the jihadi with a reputation for ruthlessness and respect from the ranks as a close associate of bin Laden a green light to order terror attacks at will. AQAP claimed responsibility for the January massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Al-Raimi is in his mid-30s. Rumors of his death have been reported many times but always found to be unsubstantiated.
The new AQAP leader once apologized for an attack gone bad.
In December 2013, AQAP fighters attacked a Yemeni Ministry of Defense compound but one went to the hospital and killed many inside.
Al-Raimi quickly issued a video statement saying fighters had been ordered not to target the mosque or hospital.
“We confess to this mistake and fault. We offer our apologies and condolences to the families of the victims,” Raimi said. “We did not want your lost ones; we did not target them on purpose. This is not of our religion or our morals.”