Sanaa: Yemen said on Thursday that the co-founder and second-in-command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Saudi national Saeed al-Shehri, has died.
The Supreme National Security Committee said Shehri had succumbed to wounds received in a counter-terrorism operation in the northern Saada province on 28 November.
“The terrorist Shehri was buried by the Al Qaeda network at a secret location in Yemen, a statement added.
On Wednesday, SITE Intelligence Service quoted a radical Islamist as reporting on Twitter that Shehri had died “after a long journey in fighting the Zio-Crusader campaign.”
Shehri had been hounded by Yemen’s security forces and survived a number of attempts on his life.
Last October, he denied a September announcement by Yemen’s defence ministry that he had been killed in an army raid, in an audio message posted on extremist Internet forums.
The Yemeni statement on Thursday called him “one of the (Al Qaeda) leaders who played a major role in the planning of local, regional and international terrorist acts.”
It added that he was “the military commander of terrorist elements” during deadly clashes with the army in the southern Abyan province, which Islamist rebels largely controlled for a year before the armed forces recaptured the territory in June.
AQAP took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government during an uprising in 2011 against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of territory across the south.
But after a month-long offensive launched in May last year by Yemeni troops, most militants fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.
Shehri was released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in 2007 and was flown to Saudi Arabia, where he was put through a rehabilitation programme.
After completing the programme, the militant leader disappeared and later resurfaced as AQAP’s Number Two.
AQAP is led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who in July 2011 reaffirmed the group’s allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the worldwide Al Qaeda network since the killing in May of its founder, Osama bin Laden.
The US has stepped up its support for Yemen’s battle against AQAP, which it regards as the most active and deadliest franchise of the global Al Qaeda network.
US drones strikes in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared with 2011, from 18 to 53, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
In October 2000, Al Qaeda militants attacked US Navy destroyer the USS Cole in Yemen’s port of Aden, killing 17 sailors and wounding 40 more.