Yemen: Whittling Away at AQAP

3 MINS READJan 15, 2010 | 22:40 GMT
Yemen Defense Ministry Web site
On Jan. 15, unnamed officials from Yemen's Ministry of Defense, citing security forces, announced the death of six high-ranking members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after an airstrike in the northern region of Alajasher. Among the dead, according to the report, was AQAP military commander Qasim al-Raymi. If true, al-Raymi's death would be a major blow to the al Qaeda node in Yemen, though there is little evidence to suggest that the group will not continue to be a significant domestic and regional threat. The Defense Ministry's announcement, which appeared on its official Web site, said the missile strike was carried out Jan. 15 by the Yemeni air force on a two-car convoy in the Alajasher region, which is located in the eastern province of Saada. Al-Raymi was said to have been the primary target of the strike. The five others reportedly killed included high-level AQAP operatives Ammar Ubadah Al-Waeli, Ayeth Jaber Al-Shabwani and Saleh Al-Tayes. Two al Qaeda operatives managed to escape and currently are being hunted by Yemeni counterterrorism units. If al-Raymi (aka Abu Hurayrah al-San'ani) has, in fact, been killed, his death would be a significant victory in the joint U.S.-Yemeni operations that are intensifying against the al Qaeda node. Al-Raymi, who has been involved with al Qaeda in Yemen for some time, formerly worked directly under the node's current top leader, Nasir al-Wahayshi. Al-Raymi has been linked to attempted attacks on foreign embassies in Sanaa and was part of a 10-man team responsible for a vehicle-borne improvised explosive attack in the eastern province of Marib that killed eight Spanish tourists in July 2007. He also was one of 23 escapees from a Sanaa prison in February 2006 and, in June 2007, appeared in a video on an Islamist Web site announcing that al-Wahayshi, a fellow escapee, was the newly appointed head of al Qaeda in Yemen. Al-Raymi subsequently appeared in a January 2009 video posted on Islamist Web sites, alongside al-Wahayshi and deputy Said al-Shihri, announcing the formation of the AQAP node. The Jan. 15 airstrike in Alajasher bears a striking resemblance to a CIA predator drone strike on former al Qaeda in Yemen leader Abu Ali al-Harithi and five confederates in November 2002 in the eastern province of Marib. Though Sanaa is claiming direct responsibility for the strike, there are indications that this may not be true. Yemen's air force is not exactly known for its ability to carry out precision airstrikes, which require quick intelligence gathering and an instant response. If the United States carried out the strike, Yemen would most likely deny any American involvement to prevent the sort of domestic backlash that resulted from the 2002 strike in Marib.

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