The deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Saeed al-Shehri, was killed in Yemen, the Defense Ministry said.
The Saudi national was killed in a “special military raid” by Yemeni forces in the Wadi area of Hadramut province, in southeast Yemen, the ministry said in a statement. Six of his bodyguards also died, it said.
Yemeni security forces under the country’s new president, Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, have been battling Islamic fighters in the south of the country with U.S. assistance. Eight suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed on Aug. 31 in an airstrike in the same region in the southeast.
The Obama administration has aided Yemen’s fight against al-Qaeda, while Saudi Arabia and international donors last week pledged as much as $6.4 billion to help Yemen rebuild from protests that weakened the central government’s authority and forced Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for more than three decades, to cede power last year.
“The U.S. sees the Yemeni front as part of its ongoing counter-terrorism fight against al-Qaeda,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. “With support from Yemeni forces, it is trying to decapitate al-Qaeda leadership in the country.”
Al-Shehri was among a number of Saudis who returned from the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and then escaped to Yemen, Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said in June 2010. He was released in 2007.
“If true, this demonstrates the new government’s determination to combat al-Qaeda,” Sam Wilkin, an analyst at Control Risks in Dubai, said by telephone today. “The previous government was much less willing to confront them directly. It also shows that Hadi is consolidating his control over the armed forces.”
Al-Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni branches merged in January 2009 after a Saudi crackdown forced militants to flee across the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) border. In June 2010, Al-Shehri ordered the group’s “soldiers” to abduct Saudi princes, ministers and Christian residents in the kingdom, according to a recording posted on an Islamist website.
Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is struggling to recover from the protests and conflicts in the south and north. Yemen’s army has also fought separatist groups in the south and Shiite Muslim rebels in the north along the Saudi border.