In a video statement released by the media wing of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), as the Yemeni affiliate is known, a senior operative read a statement announcing the death of al-Wahishi, who once served as bin Laden’s personal secretary, and said his deputy, Qassim al-Raimi, is set to replace him.
“Our Muslim nation, a hero of your heroes and a master of your masters left to God, steadfast,” senior operative Khaled Batrafi said in the video, vowing that the group’s war on America would continue.
“In the name of God, the blood of these pioneers makes us more determined to sacrifice,” he said. “Let the enemies know that the battle is not with an individual . . . the battle led by crusaders and their agents is colliding with a billion-member nation.”
Yemeni security officials had earlier said a US drone strike killed three suspected militants in the al-Qaeda-held southern port city of Mukalla last week. US officials had said they were trying to verify whether al-Wahishi had been killed.
Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate has long been seen as its most lethal, and has been linked to a number of foiled or botched attacks on the US homeland. In addition to leading the Yemeni affiliate, al-Wahishi also served as deputy to Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaida’s top leader, who succeeded bin Laden in 2011.
The death of al-Wahishi, believed to have happened last Friday, is the latest in a series of targeted killings of the Yemen affiliate’s top leaders, including its most senior military leader Nasr al-Ansi, religious ideologue Ibrahim al-Rubish and others in recent weeks.
Al-Wahishi was among 23 al- Qaeda militants who broke out of a detention facility in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in February 2006. In 2009, he announced the creation of Aqap, with Yemeni and Saudi militants.
His death is a major setback, but the group’s master bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, is believed to still be alive. He is thought to have designed bombs that were placed on three separate American-bound airplanes, although none of them exploded.
The group has also been able to expand its reach in recent months as Yemen has slid into chaos. Shiite rebels known as Houthis captured Sanaa last year and are battling southern separatists, Islamic militants and local and tribal militias.
Yemen’s military, once a close US ally against al-Qaeda, has split between opponents and supporters of the rebels, and a Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the Houthis and their allies since March.
Al-Raimi, the new leader of Aqap, is thought to be behind a foiled plot to mail bombs to the US and multiple attacks against Yemen’s US-backed government.